Most high-profile attempts at voter suppression target minority groups that are traditional Democratic constituencies. That’s why the latest pre-election news from Florida is in the man-bites-dog category. The FBI and state law enforcement are investigating letters – most of them sent to Republicans, including the president of the Jacksonville City Council and a former U.S. ambassador — telling them that they will be unable to vote unless they can prove American citizenship.Chris Cate, spokesman for the Florida Division of Elections, said Wednesday that his agency has received reports from 28 counties (including Broward, Duval, Hillsborough and Palm Beach) about the letters that were mailed with a Seattle postmark dated Oct. 17. He said authorities do not know how many letters were sent.
The letterhead sports the head of a bald eagle silhouetted against an American flag. The name of the appropriate county elections supervisor is also included. The letter says that the county has received information from the state “bringing into question your eligibility as a registered voter.” It directs the recipient to “please stop by our main office with any original documentation that demonstrates U.S. citizenship.” In bold lettering, it adds: “A nonregistered voter who casts a vote in the state of Florida may be subject to arrest, imprisonment and/or other criminal sanctions.”
What makes the mailing particularly unusual is that it targets some fairly prominent Republicans for purging from the voter rolls. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Jacksonville City Council President Bill Bishop and former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas John Rood were among the recipients.
“I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s so bizarre,” Bishop said in an interview Tuesday. “All anybody has been able to figure out is that it’s designed to confuse people and cause trouble. It certainly gets people’s attention. It’s not an identity scam that says go to a Web site and call this number. All I can figure is that it’s designed to waste a lot of people’s time.”
Cate said the partisan identity of those involved is not an issue.
“Every case of voter fraud or intimidation is unique. Regardless of who you are trying to influence, you need to be prosecuted and held accountable,” he said.
The issue of who gets to vote has been a bitter, politically charged debate in closely-contested Florida. Under Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the state sought to remove 2,600 voters it said were non-citizens from voter rolls. The purge list was ultimately ramped back to 198 names.