SARASOTA, Fla. - Thousands of local absentee ballot voters in Sarasota County got a strange email message today saying that the Supervisor of Elections office had received their ballot. The only problem was that none of the voters had received a ballot yet, let alone sent one back.
Tuesday morning, Venice resident Chuck Belknap got one such email, telling him that his absentee ballot for the March 25th election had been received even though he had yet to even get one.
"My first reaction was someone had intercepted the ballot and voted for me," Belknap said. Then he thought maybe it was a scam or identity theft. Or even voter fraud.
"Just funny things going on that probably most of us have not experienced but you worry about them," Belknap said. "Particularly if you care about the right to vote, and I do very much."
Belknap isn't alone. Nearly 12,000 absentee voters in Sarasota County got the same email. Supervisor of elections Kathy Dent says the phone calls and emails of concern have been pouring in, though local officials say it wasn't a scam and was instead just a simple mistake.
"It sounded like we got their absentee ballot back but we have not even sent out the ballots yet," Dent said. Though the e-mail did come from her office, Dent says it was sent in error.
"I want to assure voters though that this is not voter fraud. It is not a scam. It is not identity theft," Dent said. "It was just an error in testing the system."
Many of those who got the message had recently signed up. In Belknap's case, it was an address change that triggered the email.
By 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, Dent says her office had sent out a second email explaining the situation -- probably before most people had even seen the first one.
"No one in this office likes to confuse a voter," Dent said. "We are trying to make amends."
In all, Belknap says the experience was a little unnerving, but he's hopefully everything will check out.
"I have forgiven them. I feel fine. Mistakes happen," he said.
Dent says the actual absentee ballot will not be mailed out until February 18th. To request an absentee ballot, call the 941-861-8618 or email absentee@SarasotaVotes.com. A request may also be submitted online at the SOE website.