Janelle Elliot thought she was signing a petition supporting stricter child molestation laws in Florida. The voter registration card she received in the mail told a different story.
Elliot is one of many USF students to fall victim to a scam tricking college students into registering to vote as Republicans.
The ploy has been uncovered at several college campuses across the country, including the University of Central Florida earlier this month. Students are asked to fill out a form asking for personal information, and some time later receive a notice from the county election supervisor’s office about a change in their party affiliation.
“I had read the article in The Oracle earlier that day about the UCF students,” Elliot said. “When I got home, I had a new voter registration card in the mail; and I knew exactly what it was.”
Elliot was not only a registered voter in Palm Beach County but also had never filled out an absentee ballot. She noticed her political party was listed as Republican when she had initially registered herself as Independent.
Elliot said she registered to vote at the DMV, so she didn’t recognize the paperwork she filled out was a voter registration form.
“I was frustrated. The one time I thought (signing a petition) was a good reason, I decided to stop, and I got screwed over,” said Elliot, who explained further that she would never stop to fill out any paperwork from a petition worker again. “I just think it was shady that that’s what Republican Party has to do to get voters.”
Another USF student, sophomore Justin Lawandales, was also fooled. Lawandales said the people who asked him to sign the petition identified themselves as being associated with the Republican Party.
“It makes it hard to trust the people who are out there actually trying to do good things,” Lawandales said.
Lawandales said the form he signed had no indication that it was a voter registration form. He said he signed his name to what looked like a petition, gave the people some personal information — including the last four digits of his social security number — and a month later received his new voter registration card in the mail.
Joe Lupia, a freshman at USF, said in early September a group approached him on campus and asked him to sign a petition to change child molestation laws. Lupia said the people were carrying voter registration forms, asking him for general information and whether he was registered to vote.
“When I noticed she was filling out the voter registration form, I stopped, saying I was already registered. She repeatedly told me that wasn’t what she was doing,” Lupia said.
Lupia, suspicious of the woman, told her to cross out his name from the form before he walked away.
“I don’t know exactly what they were doing that day,” he said, “but it wasn’t just getting signatures for child molestation laws.”
A group in Nevada known as Youth Voter Outreach is being prosecuted for a similar plot, using the child molestation law petition to fool young voters. Members there have admitted their affiliation with the Republican Party.
John Duddy, president of USF’s College Democrats, said at least a dozen students had contacted him saying their registration had been unknowingly changed. He also said any students who think they may have had their registration changed can call a hotline for help at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
In Florida, voter fraud is a class three felony, said Dan Nolan, chief supervisor of the Hillsborough County Voter Registration office.
Nolan, aware of the situation at USF and UCF, has been working with the USF police and State Attorney’s office in trying to trace back the crimes to a certain individual.
“When we’re able to trace it back to an individual, we’ll have a case,” Nolan said.
Nolan urges anyone who thinks they may have been duped into changing their party affiliation to make corrections on the card and then send it back to the Hillsborough County Election office so they may make the corrections.
“Voter I.D. is our responsibility to you,” Nolan said.
He said that the voter registration card does not need to be presented at the polls; it’s only to inform voters of their voting precinct.
“It won’t make a difference in this election, but it could have made a difference in the primaries,” Nolan said.
Registered voters tricked into changing party affiliation can vote for whichever party they please; however, Elliot and Lupia are still concerned.
“No matter what party it’s for it’s unethical. Who knows how many students have fallen for that,” Lupia said. “Not everyone is as politically savvy as me.”