PASCO COUNTY, FL — A Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan voter registration center is accusing Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley of discouraging the public from voting by calling the center's efforts to help residents vote by mail "misguided" and "unwanted."
Corley issued a news release July 28 criticizing the Center for Voter Information and its partner organization, the Voter Participation Center after they sent out pre-filled vote-by-mail ballot requests to Pasco County voters.
Page Gardner, the founder and board chair of CVI, said the two voter advocacy centers have sent out 5.6 million vote-by-mail applications to Florida residents to encourage voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
While voters may hesitate to cast their ballots in person at the poll due to fears of coronavirus exposure, she said the vote-by-mail alternative offers them a safe way to make sure their votes are counted.
Gardner said her center's efforts have already generated nearly 300,000 vote-by-mail applications in Florida this year, all voters "who might not have voted during the coronavirus pandemic."
"In just the past six weeks alone, CVI has helped more than 10,000 Pasco County residents receive and send in their vote-by-mail applications. These Pasco County citizens — many of whom are Black and brown voters — will be able to vote safely by mail and have their voices heard because of the efforts of CVI," she said.
Corley complained that the pre-filled vote-by-mail ballot requests sent to voters by the CVI contain misspelled names and leave out information required by Florida statutes. As a result, when voters send them into the Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Office, Corley said it creates additional work for elections employees who have to call the voters for the correct and missing information.
"Our call center is taking the brunt of this organization's misguided mail campaigns," Corley said. "Voters react defensively and suspiciously to mail that misspells their names and is seemingly tied to their actual voter registration. The mailings of VPC and CVI consistently result in confused and angered voters who are suspicious that their voter registration has in some way been compromised."
Gardner said Corley's criticisms of the mailings from CVI and VPC are "suppressive, shameful and irresponsible."
“Mr. Corley should be ashamed," Gardner said. "His words are dishonest and represent an attempt to discourage legal participation in our democracy. Elections officials should be encouraging all efforts to get Floridians to safely vote by mail during a pandemic, and not sowing confusion and scaring the public.”
She said CVI and VPC have been successfully running vote-by-mail programs in Florida for years, adding that the vote-by-mail applications that VPC sends to Florida voters are legal and valid.
"CVI uses official Florida voter files to gather the names and addresses of registered voters in Pasco County and elsewhere," she said.
“With all the complications of the current election cycle and the pandemic, we know that anything and everything should be done to help people vote safely," Gardner said. "Through mail and email, CVI is bringing democracy to people's doorsteps. We will keep doing all that we can to help Florida citizens vote safely and securely."
She said Corley's time would be better spent finding more ways to help people cast their ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We urge Mr. Corley to do his job and not waste taxpayer funds going after civic engagement groups that are giving Floridians increased access to voting," Gardner said. "Instead, he should focus on registering Pasco County citizens, encouraging vote by mail and providing safe in-person voting options, too."
See related story: Elections Supervisor Says Mailings Are Eroding Voter Confidence