Seattle Man Facing Prison Time for Punking Florida Republicans With "Copycat" Voter Purge
Rick Scott loves paella -- and voter purges.
Remember when in the summer of 2012, just months before the presidential election, Gov. Rick Scott launched a purge of potentially ineligible voters? Thousands of Floridians -- including World War II veterans -- mistakenly received the threatening letters. The state spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the effort but ultimately removed only 85 from the voter rolls.
Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that Scott's slapdash purge was not only inept but also illegal.
That ruling doesn't help James Webb Baker Jr. The 58-year-old Seattle man was so pissed off by Scott's voter suppression scheme that he cooked up an ingenuous plan of his own: to beat the governor and his GOP donors at their own game. Unlike Scott, however, Baker is now facing serious prison time.
Ever since hanging chads and the Supreme Court handed George W. Bush his first term in 2000, Florida has been synonymous with "electoral shitshow."
The Sunshine State is also the big swinging schlong of swing states, with its 29 Electoral College votes crucial in deciding the last four presidential elections.
So it's not surprising that Baker became enraged with Scott's voter purge. Many Democrats -- and now a federal appeals court -- considered it a cynical campaign to strategically suppress certain voter turnout.
"[Baker] believed that the efforts of [Scott] and [Detzner] were targeted at Hispanic voters who would likely vote for candidates of the Democratic Party," reads a plea agreement in Tampa's U.S. District Court, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "[Baker] believed that some of the recipients of such letters would not vote, and this belief angered him."
So Baker decided to subject Florida Republicans to their own voter suppression tactics. He used his home computer and a printer purchased on Craigslist to create "copycat" letters nearly identical to those sent out by Scott. But instead of sending them to suspicious voters, he sent them to Republican Party donors.
Baker trolled a list of Scott's 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributors for targets, including Florida Republican Party chairman Lenny Curry. Each letter was tailored to its recipient and appeared to be from county election supervisors. But all the letters included warnings that the Republicans had 15 days to fill out a voter registration form and that anyone casting a vote without registering could face criminal prosecution.
Gov. Rick Scott
"[Baker] made these changes, in part, to stress the threat to the recipient that he or she was going to lose their right to vote and/or their liberty through imprisonment if they did not first document their citizenship and right to vote in person to the registrar," according to the plea agreement. "The defendant enclosed the same voter eligibility form without any changes that was enclosed in the actual letters sent by Florida county officials."
Baker wore gloves and used a sponge -- instead of his tongue -- to seal the envelopes. But authorities were still able to trace the letters back to him.
Whereas Scott only belatedly received a slap on the wrist for his voter purge, however, Baker's copycat stunt could send him to prison. He has pleaded guilty but could potentially receive a sentence of up to six years from a U.S. district court judge for intimidating voters.
"Mr. Baker regrets the events which led to these charges," Baker's Tampa-area attorney, John Fitzgibbons, said in a statement sent to the Times. "He has acknowledged and accepted responsibility for his actions, and we look forward to the conclusion of this matter."
Scott, meanwhile, has never apologized for his voter purge (the closest he got was when his secretary of state, Ken Detzner, said it "should have been better"). In fact, last year he and Detzner unveiled another purge attempt, dubbed "Project Integrity."
Detzner recently announced "Project Integrity" will be postponed until next year.
By then, Baker will likely be a convicted felon -- permanently stripped of his voting rights for trying to give Florida Republicans a taste of their own medicine.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.