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Inside Politics

Florida fields widespread voter complaints

State investigates allegations of fraud in registration

A Delray Beach, Florida, woman attends a voting machine demonstration this week.
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America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- With 11 days to go before the November 2 presidential election, officials in the battleground state of Florida are looking into complaints of widespread voter fraud, the state's Department of Law Enforcement said.

Over the last several weeks, the department has received numerous complaints from elections supervisors, the secretary of state's office and citizens alleging "sometimes organized efforts" to commit fraud in voter registrations, party affiliation forms and absentee ballots, the department said in a statement.

Investigations are under way throughout the state. (Showdown state Florida)

Some people who thought they were signing petitions apparently "later found out that their signatures or possible forged signatures were used to complete a fraudulent voter registration," the department said. (Special Report: America Votes 2004)

There were also reports of problems involving workers hired to obtain legitimate voter registrations.

Some allegedly "filled in the information on the registration forms that should have been completed by the registrants," and in several cases workers "appear to have signed multiple voter registrations themselves using information obtained during the registration drive," the department said.

"In many of the situations complained about, the workers were being paid on the basis of each registration form submitted."

Most cases of voter fraud are third-degree felonies in Florida, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for each charge, the department said.

Florida became the central battleground of the 2000 presidential race after Election Day, when the tally proved extremely close and questions were raised about voter intimidation, people being refused the right to vote and problems with the state's electoral process.

After weeks of legal battles, the U.S. Supreme Court determined the matter.

State officials have vowed to avoid a repeat of such problems.

Florida -- where the governor is President Bush's brother Jeb -- is one of the most hotly contested states in this year's election. President Bush and Sen. John Kerry have teams of lawyers in the state.

The Department of Law Enforcement said regional task forces are addressing voter safety issues and looking into groups that may be involved in voter fraud.

The task forces communicate directly with local law enforcement, state attorney's offices, the FBI and elections supervisors, the department's statement said.

"While we conduct this investigation, we are mindful that our No. 1 priority will be to protect the rights of those individuals that are eligible to vote and allow them the opportunity to do so," department Commissioner Guy Tunnell said in a written statement. "Our agents will do nothing that will impede or hinder that process."

The department encouraged voters to check with local elections supervisors to ensure their registration information is accurate and report any irregularities or suspected fraud.

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