Florida elections officials urge caution over confusing vote-by-mail applications arriving to Pasco County homes

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click image PHOTO BY LORIE SHAULL, COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

  • Photo by Lorie Shaull, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Pasco County Supervisor of Elections office is flooded with complaints about pre-filled vote-by-mail applications, many of which feature the names of house pets, children and the deceased.

The mailings arrive at people’s homes pre-filled, often with the recipient’s full name, date of birth and address already typed onto the form. When the letters feature misspellings or go to someone that is underage, dead or has already voted, this can elicit anger and fear in residents concerned that their information has been compromised, according to Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley.

“While it’s amusing to reference that Fluffy the dog got a pre-filled ballot, it’s not funny when a voter whose husband or wife passed away or whose child committed suicide – I have had two of those calls – gets one,” Corley told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

The applications hail from two sister nonprofit organizations – the Center for Voter Information and the Voter Participation Center. Both are headquartered in Washington D.C. and were founded in 2003 by Page Gardner.

The goal of these organizations, they say, is to help people register to vote. The two organizations use commercial and public data to identify people who are eligible to vote but who need to register, according to its website. CL reached out to the Voter Participation Center for comment.

This reporter received one of the mailed applications – with all of his information correct – which is supposed to be completed and mailed to the Pasco Supervisor of Elections via a pre-addressed envelope included in the mailer (see below).

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY CREATIVE LOAFING TAMPA BAY

  • Photo courtesy Creative Loafing Tampa Bay

Pasco County Senior Deputy of Voter Services Tami Bentley told CL that there is a noticeably increased workload that can be attributed back to the inadequacies of the applications, which only add to the mound built up by the coronavirus.

Both Corley and Bentley suggested that the commercial data is the probable source of the mailing’s inaccuracies. Corley said that the nonprofit has previously blamed constituents for the names of pets and children appearing on their pre-filled applications mail by citing magazine subscriptions.

Pasco is not the only Florida county to be flooded with complaints about the pre-filled mailings. In a two-page letter dated April 7 to Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee – which Corley and 34 of Florida’s 67 Supervisors of Elections signed – county representatives ask Lee and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody to take a firm public stand condemning the nonprofits’ “malign activity.”

“We suspect that you [Lee] are familiar with and are hopefully as distressed as Supervisors about the VPC/CVI scam mailers periodically hectoring Floridians,” the letter read. “Supervisors have addressed this issue individually, but in light of the present circumstance, we fear that this latest round will lead to substantial voter confusion and therefore are asking your assistance.”

The danger of the mailings comes from the ongoing erosion of voter trust, according to Corley.

“It makes me angry; it makes us [Corley and Bentley] angry for the voter because they deserve better,” he said.

For people who receive mail from these organizations in Pasco County, Bentley recommends that they check to see if their registration is in good standing through Pasco County’s Supervisor of Elections website, which links to the statewide system.

With increased anxiety around large crowds amid surges of coronavirus cases, mail-in-ballots are rising in popularity. As of Monday, more than 3 million vote-by-mail ballots have been requested in Florida and 700,000 completed ballots have been returned, according to a report by the Florida Department of Elections.

Further, misinformation surrounding vote-by-mail ballots continue to occur at the highest levels of government. On Thursday, President Donald Trump made the false claim that mail-in-ballots lead to inaccurate elections before suggesting a delay of the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” the tweet read. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

This story originally appeared in our sister paper Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
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