BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – ***8 p.m. update 10/21/2020***
The Associated Press reports Russian and Iran have obtained some voter registration data, the AP report shows the move was made to interfere in the Presidential election.
Democratic voters in multiple Florida counties have reported receiving emails informing them, “You will vote for Trump or we will come after you,” that appear to come from a far-right group, prompting a federal investigation.
The Supervisor of Elections in Brevard County alerted deputies Tuesday that a voter intimidation email was sent to voters who appear to be registered with the Democratic Party, according to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Office said the email tells voters switch party affiliation and vote Republican for President Donald Trump.
“While the investigation is active and currently ongoing, as your sheriff, I want to personally assure everyone that the Sheriff’s Office, our federal and local law enforcement partners are doing everything possible to identify those responsible,” Sheriff Wayne Ivey said in a statement Tuesday evening.
Ivey assured voters that they are safe as they head to the polls during the election.
“While these emails appear concerning, the investigation to date has determined the emails originated from outside the continental United States and are not considered a valid threat, but were sent with a morally corrupt agenda,” Ivey said.
Brevard Supervisor of Elections Lori Scott says she wants to reassure voters that their vote is private, what is public record are the voter registration rolls.
“I personally and my fellow supervisors have lobbied to try and protect voters' personal information," Scott said. "It shouldn’t be used and abused by whoever sent these emails out, because it’s a felony. Public record laws are meant for the public to monitor the government and not for government to put the public in a position where they can be intimidated or harassed.”
The emails appear to come from an address associated with the far-right, male-only group called the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
However, a local chapter of the organization denied involvement in the intimidation campaign.
“Neither this chapter nor any chapter in the organization has anything to do with that. It’s an obvious smear campaign. Only a fool would ever commit a felony and then leave his calling card to take credit for it,” the Space Force Proud Boys chapter said in a statement.
Scott said the emails appear to come from servers located in Estonia and Saudi Arabia.
“Nobody knows how you voted,” Scott said. “You should have confidence to know that your vote is private when you cast it.”
Election officials across Florida are now working with authorities, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and the Florida Department of State, to determine the source of the emails.
Flagler County Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart said voters have notified her office concerning the same intimidation emails.
Marion County officials said they are aware of the threatening emails.
“In the email, the sender claims to have personal information including the party affiliation of the receiver and who they have voted for. Party affiliation is public record, however all ballots are kept secret. Beware of this scam and do NOT provide any of your personal information. Under Florida law, a person who directly or indirectly uses intimidation to compel an individual to vote for any individual on the ballot commits a third-degree felony," a statement from Marion County Supervisors of Elections read.
Lake County Supervisor of Election Alan Hays said his department is aware of misinformation and voter intimidation campaigns but there are systems in place to help respond to false and misleading information.
“The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) works to help identify, respond to, and mitigate the spread of false or misleading election information that may be circulating through online journals, emails, and social media channels,” a statement from the Lake County Supervisor of Elections office said. “The CISA advises that before voters share a post, a link, or an email that contains election information, to check with their local elections office to verify the information. They further advise voters to be wary of manipulative content designed to make them angry or sad or create a sense of urgency to act. These are tactics used by groups who want to disrupt the election processes.”
The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office also received a notice of intimidation emails from its county’s supervisor of elections.
Orange County, the largest county in Central Florida, did not report seeing the emails as of Wednesday morning, according to Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles.
Communications Director Carlie Waibel, of Biden for President Florida, released a statement Wednesday about the emails.
“In the United States of America, we cannot and will not stand for any behavior that could intimidate voters from participating in our democracy. Our country stands for freedom, liberty and democracy, and these scare tactics have no place in our state. It’s clear that those running scared will try anything in the closing weeks of the election. There are no excuses for this behavior. We are committed to making sure every Floridian can vote and every vote is counted," Waibel said.
Early voting began this week across Central Florida.
Below are some stats (as of Oct. 20) about voting in Florida.