Every year, it's the same thing: The liberal-leaning nonprofit Center for Voter Information sends out mailers that wind up confusing voters around the nation..
And every year, local elections officials across the country field concerns from panic-stricken voters who receive these mailers, usually assuring them they're still eligible to vote.
This year is no different, as several Florida elections supervisors took the public relations firm managing CVI to task, according to emails shared with the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida. The group's latest mailer, sent to 2.3 million people in Florida, urges them to register to vote by mail this election year.
The organization says it is its largest campaign to boost voter participation in the 2020 election given the lack of person-to-person recruiting and the fear people have of going to the polls during the pandemic.
"We get people on the rolls. We get them to vote. We bring democracy to their doorstep, said Page Gardner, a Democratic strategist who founded both CVI and its sister organization, the Voter Participation Center. "It's a point in time when Divisions of Motor Vehicles are shuttered and person-to-person registration is sidelined across the nation."
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There are 5.6 million people in Florida who are eligible to vote but have not registered, Gardner said. Since 2010, her organization has helped 250,000 people register to vote by mail, Gardner said.
But over 311,000 mailers – 13.5% –went out without a date reference or a line for voters to sign their name as required by state law, piquing the ire of local elections officials.
“What I would most like to see you do would be to just stop any more contact with our voters and go away,” Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley said Monday in an email to Jennifer Carrier of Blank Rome LLP, a Washington-based legal and advocacy firm.
“We will handle the fallout from your latest screw up, as we do multiple times each year, it seems,” Earley added. Carrier did not respond to a request for further comment.
Earley, whose county has 213,000 registered voters, went on to say he’d like to talk to the people who finance CVI to recite a “long history of complaints. I doubt they would be happy to hear our side of this.”
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CVI listed $19 million in grants and $14.9 million in expenses on its 2018 federal disclosure form. Its sister organization, the Voter Participation Center, also founded by Gardner, listed $26.3 million in assets and $22.5 million in expenses.
Voting by mail is already widely popular in Florida, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned no-excuse voting by mail into a lightning-rod political issue, with Democrats pushing for a national Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act.
Gardner said her organization is offering people a convenient way to register to vote by mail, especially in states whose election administrators are overwhelmed by the sudden demand for VBM applications.
But several supervisors said her organization's efforts are causing more work for election staff who have to untangle the confusion.
But Brian Corley, supervisor of elections for Pasco County (374,000 voters), sarcastically told Carrier he felt “reassured with your estimate of only a mere 311,000 persons who received a VBM form with no signature or date reference on or near the actual signature/date area.”
Corley went on, “Seriously, which part about ‘Let the professionals handle it’ was unclear? I’d propose your client leave our voters alone (and given your client’s history, I should probably include kids, pets, et cetera),” Corley said. That referred to past mailers from CVI that went out to pets, children under the age of 18, and dead relatives.
“I honestly don’t know how an organization can continue to wreak such havoc on the voters in not just Florida, but a simple Google search indicates ... it's other states as well. Have you all no shame!” Corley continued. “For the love of God, please just stop it!"
Gardner said she found Corley's replies to Carrier unprofessional.
Paul Lux, supervisor of elections for Okaloosa County, with 141,000 registered voters, said he knew Carrier had already heard from other supervisors, but needed to hear it again – 67 times if necessary, for Florida's 67 counties and their elections officials.
“The mailings done by your organization(s) have done nothing but sow confusion and distrust of US – THE PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SAFE CONDUCT OF THE ELECTION. When you SCREW UP, it reflects poorly ON US.
"STOP," he wrote in capital letters, repeating the word 67 times. "There."
Carrier acknowledged she “received calls from a few of you today regarding CVI vote-by-mail applications being returned to your offices without signatures” and that the organization was taking steps to correct the problem.
She also said CVI was thinking of sending a follow-up letter to those 311,000 people whose forms were turned in without signatures, telling them they could fix it by filling out a form on the county supervisor’s website.