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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Voter intimidation emails surface on Alachua County’s second day of Early Voting

Screenshot of an email sent saying to vote for Trump

The FBI is investigating threatening emails sent to nearly 200 UF affiliated voters, and potentially more, by an email account claiming affiliation to the Proud Boys. 

On Tuesday morning, dozens of registered Florida Democrats said they received emails from a sender claiming to be the Proud Boys, a far-right political group classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The email threatened anyone who doesn’t cast a ballot in favor of President Donald Trump,

“You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you,” the email read.

In the email, the recipient is instructed to change their registration from Democrat to Republican and vote for Trump. The sender claimed to be in possession of the recipient’s personal information and that the organization has gained access to, “the entire voting infrastructure.” 

While voter registration information is public, ballot selections are private.

Joe Biggs, a Proud Boys organizer, denied the organization’s involvement on Parler.

“This is such BS,” he wrote. “We don't do that none of this stuff even is remotely attached to us.”

Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio also denied the organization’s involvement in the email campaign. Originally reported by Vice, Tarrio called it a “f------ bold face lie” and “some type of left-wing ploy.”

The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections is in contact with local, state and federal law enforcement including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, according to a release. Voter intimidation is illegal under federal law and punishable by up to a year in prison, according to federal statutes.

“This is something that we take very seriously,” said TJ Pyche, spokesperson for the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections. “We want to make sure that everybody here in Alachua County who votes here has a positive and safe experience.”

UF Information Technology removed the email from the inboxes of 183 UF accounts, wrote Hessy Fernandez, the Director of Issues Management & Crisis Communications. UFIT blocked the sender’s account and contacted the University Police Department, she said. 

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Multiple UF students confirmed the email’s removal from their inboxes. 

It’s unclear how widely the email was sent beyond the scope of UF students. Brevard County registered voters also received the email, reported Florida Today.

The website the email was sent from, “officialproudboys.com” does not load, but Google search results show the site existed at one point.

Trump referenced the Proud Boys when asked to denounce white supremacy during the first presidential debate on Sept. 29. The president received considerable backlash for his hesitancy to denounce groups like the Proud Boys.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said.

The president has also advocated for his supporters to “watch the polls” to look for election fraud. 

Over 4,000 people voted Monday, the first day of early voting in Florida. Over 45,000 people have already voted in Alachua County as of 6 p.m. on Oct. 20, including 29,144 Democrats, 8,974 Republicans, and 7,637 independents or no-party voters.

Florida remains a key battleground state in the presidential race in 2020. Florida has 29 electoral votes, and the candidate to win Florida has won in every election since 1996. As of Oct. 20, former Vice President Joe Biden leads Trump in Florida by about four points, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Lillian Rozsa, a 24-year-old UF law third year, is a registered Democrat in Alachua County. When she received the email, she said she was shocked.

She has not voted yet but plans to this week, she said. While not intimidated by the email herself, Rozsa said she’s worried that uninformed people may be.

“I know that things can get nasty during an election, but I've never experienced this before,” she said.

Lauren Robinov, a 24-year-old UF communications master’s second year, is a registered Democrat in Palm Beach County who received the email. She tried reporting it to UPD, but they didn’t take action.

“I had my suspicions that it wasn't real,” Robinov said. “It just didn't seem very legitimate, but you can never be too careful.”

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