SARASOTA, Fla. – The Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections has issued warning about a voter scam is sweeping across the Suncoast. Official-looking letters began arriving in mailboxes this week that question the recipient's eligibility to vote -- demanding proof of their citizenship and threatening them if they fail to provide it.
The fraudulent letters have been reported in Sarasota, Manatee and Collier counties, along with other parts of the state.
Kevin Hayes says he was stunned when he got the letter. "It says basically the Florida Division of Elections has information regarding your citizenship; bringing into question your eligibility to vote. And then it goes on to state registering to vote under fraudulent conditions or swearing a false oath are both 3rd degree felonies in Florida.
But then when he looked closer, he got suspicious. "I noticed the letter has no return address, has a form attached that says you have 30 days to respond, but the letter says you have 15 days to respond. And then finally the envelope is postmarked Seattle."
He brought the letter to the office of Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent to check it out. "I came down here with passport and birth certificate just to be doubly sure, but I think we more than likely have some voter suppression effort going on."
Dent agrees. She's already received complaints from several others who received the same letter. “Whoever is doing it using the letter heads of the supervisors of elections in various counties, and it makes it look like its coming from the supervisor of elections, but it is not a real letter from us. We have not mailed anything about citizenship to any of the voters."
Hayes believes the senders are targeting seniors. "I worry about my mom. She's 90 and a half, and if she'd gotten this letter and there was no one here to help her, I don't know what she would do. She'd be very scared by this.”
Frankie Soriano, executive director of Unidos Now, sees this as an attack on the immigrant population. "It's all out threatening. It says if you don't respond in 15 days, you will be removed from the voting polls, we are going to take your ability to vote, to participate civilly if you don't respond to this fraudulent letter."
And he fears it may prevent legal voters from going to the polls. "There is already this perpetual fear, and this is just going to scare people more. It’s another item that's going to push people away from the civic participation we're trying to encourage."
If you receive this letter, you’re asked to call your local office of the Supervisor of Elections.
The Florida Division of Elections is investigating. Committing voter fraud is a 3rd degree felony punishable with a $5,000 fine or 5 years in prison.
The number to call in Sarasota County is (941) 861-8600. In Manatee County, call (941) 741-3823.