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FBI joins Florida's "voter letter" fraud investigation

6:48 PM, Oct 24, 2012   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- It is now a federal case.

This afternoon, the FBI joined the state and local investigators looking into that very-real looking letter sent to voters around the state of Florida, including the Bay area, telling recipients they may not be eligible to vote.

Is it someone trying to affect the outcome of the presidential election? Or a prank to send a message to the GOP? That's what they're trying to figure out.

There are now at least four people in Hillsborough County and about 50 known cases state-wide of voters who've received the very real looking letters.

That number may still grow as reports of these letters are now flooding in from around the state.

The fake letter scandal is expanding throughout Florida. There are now at least 23 districts reporting voters, mostly big-hitter republicans, receiving the letters. They question the recipients' citizenship, and threaten criminal charges if they cast a ballot.

The envelopes, post-marked from Seattle, Washington, are now getting the attention of the FBI, because the federal election makes it a federal case.

"Potentially from the federal side we're looking at either civil rights violations or we're looking at voter fraud," said Dave Couvertier with the FBI Tampa Office.

The letter also warns recipients they could be purged from the voter rolls if they don't respond within 15 days.

Not true. None of it is.

In Hillsborough, Elections Supervisor Earl Lennard is not happy about the scam.

"I think it's reprehensible. It's offensive, really, to the voting public," said Lennard.

Florida's Governor, Rick Scott, has also vowed to prosecute those responsible, for voter fraud and election tampering.

Those are not considered minor crimes. They're third degree felonies carrying a fine of up to $5,000 and up to five years behind bars.

"Anytime anyone is trying to prevent somebody from voting, that's a serious issue," said Scott.

Ironic, perhaps, since some think the motive behind the letters may be backlash against Governor Scott himself, and his recent push, along with Florida's Republican legislature, to purge the state's election rolls of so-called ineligible voters.

"During an election cycle we had a Governor who wants to purge rolls. And so it looks to me more like a Democratic attack, if you will," said USF St. Pete Political Science professor Seth McKee.

McKee thinks it's a case of nasty politics. Someone trying to send a message to the GOP -- letting them know how it feels to be on the receiving end of a voter purge.

"I think the message is - two can play this game," said McKee.

Perhaps further supporting the Florida purge theory is that -- as of Wednesday afternoon -- the FBI was unaware of voters in any other swing states receiving the fake letters.

Elections Supervisor Lennard says to him the motive really doesn't matter.

"What matters to me is that it's disruptive and it's a detraction from the work we have to do to make this a successful election," said Lennard.

The FBI has set up a hotline for anyone who may have received one of these letters: 1-866-838-1153

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