Seffner woman gets voter registration form mailed to dead niece

Politics

SEFFNER, Fla. (WFLA) – Several viewers have reached out to 8 On Your Side, angry and confused after receiving partially pre-completed voter registration forms in the mail.

Joanna Rydzewski of Seffner got two voter registration forms for her niece, Vivian Hayston, in the last month. But her niece never lived at that address, and she passed away in 2013. She was also a felon.

“It was giving me the creeps because this person is deceased,” said Rydzewski. “Why are they looking for a deceased person?”

The form was sent from a group called Voter Participation Center, and was partially completed with her niece’s name and Rydzewski’s address. They do not share a last name, and the niece, Vivian Hayston, never lived at that address.

There doesn’t appear to be any targeting of voters of one party or another by the organization – Rydzewski is a Republican, and she doesn’t know what party her niece was in before her death.

Brian Corley, supervisor of elections for Pasco County, said his office has been inundated with calls recently about the mailers. While they are not illegal, they are upsetting for some voters.

“Imagine talking to a mother whose son would be voting age, but previously died of an overdose?” Corley said. “They don’t have anything to do with our office and we didn’t send them, but it’s embarrassing when a voter calls you and says I got one for a 9-year-old daughter, or a pet.”

Corley said he’s met with people from VPC before, and they told him they get their names and addresses from commercial mailing lists, like magazine subscriptions, and other avenues. He doesn’t doubt the intentions behind their voter drive, but he does fault their execution, especially “at a time when we need the utmost confidence in voter security.”

In an email to 8 On Your Side, a spokesperson for Voter Participation Center said in part “VPC and its partner, the Center for Voter Information, have helped hundreds of thousands of Floridians register to vote, including many in Pasco County. As VPC explains on its website, mistakes in their programming are extremely rare, and they take many steps to avoid them.”

Rydzewski said she’s worried about voter fraud, and is concerned that someone with more sinister motives could have taken the form and tried to register and vote under her niece’s name.

“It makes me very upset,” said Rydzewski. “The system is broken, and we need to fix it.”

But Corley points out that even if someone tried to use that registration, there are numerous safeguards to prevent fraudulent registration and voting.

“There’s a myriad of things we do, it’s not as simple as just registering someone to vote,” said Corley. “Remember, Florida is a state that requires photo and signature identification when you present yourself to vote. And if you’re a first-time voter and you’ve never presented yourself in-person – Early Voting or Election Day – and you’re voting by mail, you’re required to present ID.”

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