For the average voter in the state of Florida, questions about the legitimacy of the election process are about as common as candidates specific platforms or policies.
In the past two weeks leading up to the general election, more examples of voter intimidation, perceived fraud and misinformation are cropping up and affecting residents from all political bents, once again putting into doubt the electoral legitimacy in one of the nations most important swing states.
The latest story surrounds voters in at least 24 counties who received fake letters questioning their eligibility to vote and demanding they provide proof of their citizenship to local election officers.
The letters were typed up using the official county supervisor of elections stationary and were sent without a return address, last postmarked in Seattle. The majority of those who received the letters appear to be actively registered Republicans who have been active in voting, according to CNN, and a sample letter was printed by Florida Political Press.
We dont know the intention of the letters, Florida Department of State spokesman Chris Cate told reporters on Wednesday. They certainly have the possibility of intimidating voters, and were going to make sure the people who did this are brought to justice.
Many observers, including American Civil Liberties Union of Florida executive director Howard Simon, see this as direct payback for Gov. Rick Scotts efforts to purge inactive and ineligible voters from the registration rolls.
The state has created a lot of confusion about citizenship and eligibility, he told the Tampa Bay Times. No one can be reasonably surprised that people have stepped in to take advantage of the confusion.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it has opened an official investigation into the matter, but it is not yet clear who sent the letters.
Earlier this month, hundreds of residents in Pasco County received misleading robo-calls from Organizing for America, President Barack Obamas grassroots re-election campaign, telling them early voting commenced on Oct. 3 and urging them to pick up their absentee ballots at election offices.
Brian Corley, elections supervisor for Pasco County, told the Tampa Tribune that he called OFA and the campaign has since pledged to cease sending voters confusing messages.
Another notable case is that of Strategic Allied Consulting, a GOP-tied group suspected of submitting hundreds of fraudulent registration forms in Palm Beach County, prompting an immediate investigation by state officials.
The Florida GOP cut ties with a firm accused of providing fraudulent voter registrations. Itwas hired by the Florida Republican Party to register new voters throughout South Florida.
Earlier findings by True the Vote, a ballot integrity group based in Houston, found nearly 19,000 voters registered in New York and Florida alone, prompting concerns that citizens could vote twice in the pivotal general election. A video investigation released by James OKeefes Project Veritas revealed similar findings, showing OFA campaign workers facilitating a voters desire to cast votes in two different states, which would be a felony.
And finally, an analysis conducted by Watchdog Labs found that the rolls in several Florida counties contained more registered voters than actual voting-age population, renewing fears that fraud easily could be perpetuated in the upcoming election.
For state Rep. John Patrick Julien, a Democrat from North Miami, allegations of fraud and voter intimidation are real and all part of the problem. Julien says vote fraudsters were making their trial run during the Florida primaries.
Everyone is more interested in winning than in doing it the right and just way, Julien told Florida Watchdog. In August, Julien lost his re-election battle to fellow state Rep. Barbara Watson by just 13 votes, a loss he attributes directly to absentee voter fraud in Miami-Dade County.
It was my belief that what was going on is a trial run for the presidential election. Both parties are equally active and invested in the outcome, said Julien. There is a problem. There are people who are preying upon our elderly, upon our immigrant voters. People are actually stealing their votes, he said, referring to so-called boloteros --activists hired by campaigns to collect absentee votes from voters in elderly care homes and community centers.
Most worrying for Julien, he said, is that he sees the efforts to con people out of their vote not just from the Republicans, but from his own party, the Democratic Party.
They see nothing wrong with disenfranchising people of the other parties. That is not how it should be. People should be against disenfranchisement whether it works to your benefit or not, he said.
The fraud part of it has to stop, but I dont think any of the parties want this to end.
Anyone who wants to run has to submit to the criminal element in order to win, said Julien. Everyone participates in it and thats wrong.
Contact Ya Ossowski, Watchdog.orgs Florida bureau chief, at Yael@FloridaWatchdog.org.