Republican Mailing Leaves Florida Voters Confused

Florida voters waiting to cast ballots in November 2004 i

Florida voters wait to cast ballots in Palm Beach County on Nov. 2, 2004. This county was one of the centers of voting problems during the 2000 election. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mario Tama/Getty Images
Florida voters waiting to cast ballots in November 2004

Florida voters wait to cast ballots in Palm Beach County on Nov. 2, 2004. This county was one of the centers of voting problems during the 2000 election.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

A new mailing from the Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign to Florida voters has Democrats saying they're the victim of dirty tricks. They say that at the very least, the mailing is meant to confuse voters in this battleground state. Republicans say Democrats are making much ado abut nothing.

Lifelong Democrat Marilyn DiMauro of Naples was surprised to get a letter recently from Republican presidential contender John McCain.

"I thought, well that's strange, because I'm a Democrat. And when I opened the envelope, there was a card that said I was listed as a Republican with my registration number. So I immediately got my Democratic card, and the registration number was not the same," she says.

She thought the mailing — labeled "Party Affiliation Voter Registration Card" — was a little fishy — especially when she found out two of her friends who are Democrats had received the same thing but a Republican friend had not.

"So I just felt that there was some diabolical reason for doing this mailing," she says. "Why would you spend the money?"

That's what Jim Reynolds, another lifelong Democrat in Naples, wants to know. He happens to be a former U.S. attorney from Iowa. And he has filed a mail-fraud complaint with the postal service. Reynolds thinks Republicans are trying to confuse Democratic voters into thinking there's a problem with their registrations.

"They're just doing everything to try to suppress a certain segment that they feel are not going to be favorable to them," he says.

And indeed, Florida election officials have reported dozens of worried calls from voters. A copy of the mailing obtained by NPR shows that it includes an official-looking card, listing the recipient's name, address, congressional district, party affiliation and something called a voter ID number. In an attached letter, McCain asks recipients to update the enclosed card — and to contribute to his campaign.

RNC Mailing Sent To Voters Of All Ages

Florida Democrats initially charged that the letters were directed at elderly voters, but when Reynolds borrowed a phone at an office in Collier County to call NPR, he found a younger worker there, Gloria Hernandez, who had also received the letter.

Hernandez says she thought there was a mistake with her registration when she got the mail.

"I just come in with my family and I say, look, I receive a letter. They say that I am a Republican. And my kids say, 'Are you, Mom?' And I say, 'Of course no,' " she says.

The McCain campaign referred questions about the mailing to the Republican National Committee, whose spokeswoman Amber Wilkerson says it was a routine fundraiser — similar to ones used in the past — and that it was intended for Republicans.

"In the event that it was sent to Democrats, we correct our internal file to ensure that that doesn't happen in the future," she says.

Wilkerson says the uproar over the mailing is part of a national Democratic strategy to undermine confidence in Republicans.

"This is a desperate attempt to try to confuse voters who are hearing John McCain's message and haven't necessarily connected with Barack Obama thus far," she adds.

But most of the confusion so far does seem to be coming from the RNC mailing. Jerry Holland, the Republican supervisor of elections in Duval County, received so many calls from worried voters that he released a statement last week assuring them that only a voter can change his or her own registration.

"Whoever designed the piece obviously created something, knowingly or unknowingly, confusing to some voters, because obviously they were concerned that maybe someone had changed their party," says Holland.

Purpose Of The Mailer?

Some Democrats have said they are also concerned that the mailing might be used to challenge voters at the polls, if letters are returned as undeliverable. But postal officials say that with this kind of mailing, any undeliverable mail is destroyed, not returned to the sender — in this case the RNC.

This all comes as both parties are mounting major legal campaigns to protect against what they see as voting procedures that could hurt them in November. Democrats this week filed a lawsuit to stop Michigan Republicans from challenging voters at the polls using home foreclosure lists — something Republicans insist they don't intend to do. In Ohio, Republicans are challenging an absentee voting rule that they say will hurt McCain.

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