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Man pleads guilty to intimidating Florida Republican voters in 2012 election

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Seattle man pleaded guilty on Thursday to identity fraud and voter intimidation for forged letters he sent to 200 Republican donors in Florida that told them they were ineligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election.

Angered by what he believed was an attempt to suppress Hispanic voter turnout for Democratic Party candidates, James Baker Jr. in 2012 created false voter eligibility letters purporting to be from elections authorities, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release.

Baker, 58, entered his plea in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida and faces up to six years in prison and a $350,000 in fines.

The letters, sent by Baker from Seattle, told recipients their citizenship was in doubt and they were in danger of being removed from voter rolls. The letters also warned that non-registered voters who cast ballots could face criminal charges, according to the Justice Department.

"Mr. Baker regrets the events which led to these charges. He has acknowledged and accepted responsibility for his actions and we look forward to the conclusion of this matter," his lawyer, John Fitzgibbons, said in an email.

Baker obtained names of recipients from the Federal Elections Commission's website and created customized letters to each that appeared to be from county's election supervisors, according to court documents.

Florida Governor Rick Scott’s efforts in 2012 to purge non-U.S. citizens from the state’s voter lists before the November general election sparked public criticism and prompted several legal challenges.

Florida officials said they identified an initial list of 182,000 potential non-citizens, but the number was reduced to 200 after election authorities, prompted by news reports and complaints from voting rights groups, acknowledged errors in the original list.

The effort was dealt a blow when Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner postponed a push to identify non-citizens on voter lists until a federal database was completed. A federal appeals court also ruled the state’s efforts attempts to remove voters was done too close to the election. 

(Reporting By David Adams; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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