MIAMI — With a week to go until Election Day, the nasty campaign tactics are coming out.

People in Florida, Virginia and Indiana have gotten calls falsely telling them they can vote early by phone and don't need to go to a polling place. In suburban Broward County, Fla., a handful of elderly voters who requested absentee ballots say they were visited by unknown people claiming to be authorized to collect the ballots.

And there's a mysterious DVD popping up in mailboxes that purports to be a documentary raising questions about the true identity of President Barack Obama's father.

It's one more indication of just how close this presidential election is. Voting rights advocates say reports of political deception and underhandedness are on the rise.

"Unfortunately it seems like the shadowy individuals that want to prevent people from voting are doing things earlier," said Eric Marshall, legal mobilization manager at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The organization is part of a coalition called Election Protection that is monitoring voting access and rights nationwide, including a toll-free hotline set up to take complaints.

"Each American's vote matters. It's important to them and it's important to the community," Marshall said.

Indiana's secretary of state launched an investigation of the phony voting instructions being phoned to homes in that state, and Virginia officials issued a warning to voters there asking them to report any such calls.

In the Broward County, Fla., case, elderly voters "were told, `I'm an official and I'm here to pick up your absentee ballot,'" said Alma Gonzalez, a senior Florida Democratic Party official working on voter protection efforts. "There is no official who picks up your ballot."

In addition to those cases, garish billboards warning that voter fraud is a crime punishable by jail time and fines were put up in minority neighborhoods in Ohio and Wisconsin. They were recently taken down amid complaints they were aimed at intimidating African-American and Latino voters. The people behind the billboards have not come forward.

"It's hard to believe that these were just public service announcements," Marshall said. "Those neighborhoods were specifically targeted."

"It doesn't pass the smell test."

Independent Florida voter Jane Bowman smelled something bad, too, when she recently discovered a DVD in her mailbox questioning the identity of Obama's father.

"I think it's just a dirty trick. It just astonished me," said Bowman, a Jacksonville resident who says she plans to vote for Obama as she did four years ago. "I think they're doing everything they can to win Florida. It's a sorry situation."

The DVD's director, who says he has mailed some 7 million copies to homes in swing states, says that he is unaffiliated with political campaigns or their supporters and that the film reflects his own painstaking research into Obama's family background.

The DVD, "Dreams from My Real Father," posits that the president's true father was a communist agitator, author and poet living in Hawaii named Frank Marshall Davis – not the Kenyan man who shares the president's name. Both men are now dead.

The title is a reference to Obama's book about his family history. That book does mention a poet named "Frank" who was a friend of Obama's maternal grandfather.

In an interview, DVD director Joel Gilbert described himself as a nonpartisan independent who seeks only to tell what he views as an extremely important story. Gilbert said he did not coordinate distribution of the DVD with any political entity and also took no political contributions to finance it. Yet the DVD was targeted at voters in key battleground states, including 1.5 million in Florida and 1.2 million in Ohio, according to Gilbert's website.

"It's a publicity measure," he said of the free mail distribution. "This has been an effort to force and embarrass the media into covering the content of the film."

Gilbert declined to disclose how the DVD and its distribution were financed, saying his production company is private and not required to. He has also made what he calls "mockumentaries" exploring whether former Beatle Paul McCartney might really be dead – as was rumored in the 1960s – and finding Elvis Presley alive and living as a federal agent in Southern California. He has also done films on Islamic-Jewish relations and Iran's strategic ambitions.

Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher declined comment on the DVD.

Another mysterious batch of mailings to voters in at least 23 Florida counties is being investigated by the FBI and state officials. These anonymous letters, which were postmarked from Seattle, raise questions about the voter's citizenship and provide a form that supposedly must immediately be filled out and returned to elections officials. Otherwise, the letter says, the voter's name will be purged from the rolls.

"A nonregistered voter who casts a vote in the State of Florida may be subject to arrest, imprisonment, and/or other criminal sanctions," warns one of the official-looking letters complete with eagle-and-flag logo, which appear to have been aimed mainly at registered Republicans.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has asked all of the state's supervisors of elections to report any similar letters. There could also be federal charges against those responsible.

Voting rights advocates also say there have been scattered complaints of bosses ordering employees to support a particular presidential candidate or face job repercussions. And in the past, students and other groups have been the targets of robocalls falsely saying they can vote on the day after Election Day if the lines are too long.

Marshall said such misinformation tactics surface election after election because it's not illegal in most states to deceive someone about the timing or place of an election, or to lie about a candidate's political affiliation. Most laws, he said, are more geared toward preventing voter intimidation and ensuring physical access to polling places. Those who do get caught in deception usually claim it was all a big misunderstanding.

"It's very difficult to stop," he said. "The tactics have evolved but the law hasn't."

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Election Protection voter complaint hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE

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Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt

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  • Lee Atwater: Smear Pioneer

    Negative campaigning has become more effective since 1828, though at times no less brutal. Many attribute this growing efficiency to the legacy of Republican strategist Lee Atwater. The former RNC chairman may have been best known as a driving force behind political ads such as the iconic <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io9KMSSEZ0Y" target="_hplink">Willie Horton commercial</a> against Michael Dukakis in 1988, but his past involvement in smear campaigns is much deeper. Slate <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2008/09/mr_wedge_issue.html" target="_hplink">reports</a> on Atwater's earlier career: <blockquote>In 1973, the 22-year-old protégé of South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond began his consulting career by publicizing the fact that Tom Turnipseed, a candidate for the state Senate, had undergone shock therapy as a young man: "They hooked him up to jumper cables" became the catchphrase that sunk Turnipseed's candidacy. Five years later, Atwater helped to defeat Max Heller, a Holocaust survivor running for U.S. Congress, by secretly enlisting a third candidate to enter the race and stir up anti-Semitic sentiment. Atwater finagled his way into a minor post in the Reagan administration, but it was as the director of George H.W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign (and mastermind of the Willie Horton TV ads) that he found his true Machiavellian voice.</blockquote>

  • The Wrong Jim Brady

    The potential perils of attack politics were on full display in 1996 when then-GOP Senate candidate Al Salvi attempted to knock down a high-profile endorsement given to his opponent, then-Rep. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), by former Ronald Reagan Press Secretary Jim Brady. Brady "used to sell" machine guns, Salvi alleged, a strong claim considering Brady's position as strong advocate for gun control and victim of a gunshot wound to the head during a failed assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981. Salvi was wrong. "Turns out that was a different Jim Brady," a blushing Salvi was later <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1996-11-02/news/9611020079_1_o-malley-event-gun-control-assault-weapons" target="_hplink">forced to admit</a>. "I apologize." Salvi ended up losing to Durbin.

  • Attacking A Triple-Amputee For Lack Of Courage

    In 2002, Saxby Chambliss, then a Georgia GOP congressman mounting a bid for U.S. Senate, released a controversial ad <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58371-2004Sep28.html" target="_hplink">falsely accusing</a> then-Sen. Max Cleland (D), a triple-amputee Vietnam War veteran, of voting against the nation's national security interest. It placed Cleland next to images of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and suggested that the senator lacked "courage." Chambliss, who didn't serve in Vietnam because of a bad knee, drew widespread condemnation from Republican military veterans in the Senate such as Arizona Sen. John McCain and Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel. In a 2008 interview, Chambliss, who had eventually gone on to defeat Cleland six years earlier, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2008/11/13/32286/chambliss-cleland-truthful/" target="_hplink">stood by his ad</a> as "truthful in every way."

  • Jean Schmidt Blasts 'Cowards'

    Long before Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) uttered <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/29/jean-schmidt-reacts-health-care-ruling_n_1638335.html" target="_hplink">shrieks of joy</a> because of false reports that the Supreme Court had ruled against Obamacare, she outraged colleagues on the House floor by suggesting that Vietnam veteran Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.), was a "coward." In 2005, Schmidt addressed her colleagues in a House speech, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2005/11/18/2603/schmidt-shame/" target="_hplink">relaying a message</a> from a Marine who she said had urged her to support an extension of the Iraq War. "He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course," she said. "He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body -- that we will see this through." She later returned to the House floor to have her remarks stricken from the record and to apologize to Murtha.

  • RNC's Harold Ford Hit

    In 2006, the Republican National Committee set off bickering within and between political parties when it decided to air an ad in a Senate race between then-Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) and GOP candidate Bob Corker. The ad was chock-full of stereotypes and thinly-veiled racist undertones -- Ford is black. It drew widespread condemnation from both Democrats and Republicans, including Corker himself. Amid the flareup, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15403071/ns/politics/t/tennessee-ad-ignites-internal-gop-squabbling/" target="_hplink">said he found nothing wrong</a> with the ad, but attempted to blame the content on a third party group. Corker eventually won the election.

  • Palin's 'Palling Around With Terrorists'

    In the heat of the 2008 presidential election, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin lofted a now-infamous charge, drawing immediate criticism from opponents who saw it as an attempt to brand then-candidate Barack Obama as un-American. Some even alleged that it was a racially charged character attack seeking to subtly link the supposed terrorist ties to prevalent right-wing conspiracy theories about Obama's so-called Muslim roots. The Associated Press <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/05/ap-palins-ayers-attack-ra_n_132008.html" target="_hplink">reports</a> on her comments: <blockquote>"Our opponent ... is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country," Palin told a group of donors in Englewood, Colo. A deliberate attempt to smear Obama, McCain's ticket-mate echoed the line at three separate events Saturday. "This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America," she said. "We see America as a force of good in this world. We see an America of exceptionalism."</blockquote>

  • 'There Is No God'

    In 2008, a floundering Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) released an ad attempting to accuse her opponent, Democrat Kay Hagan, of having mysterious ties to a group called Godless Americans. The entire ad struck many observers as a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/29/dole-ad-fabricates-audio_n_138874.html" target="_hplink">desperate attempt</a> to regain momentum, but the brunt of the controversy came in the last few seconds, when a faceless voice rings out, yelling "there is no God." Many saw it as an attempt to paint the quote as Hagan's. It wasn't. In fact, Hagan was a Sunday School teacher who served as an elder at her Presbyterian church.

  • Vintage Michele Bachmann

    Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) had a somewhat rapid ascent to her current status as darling of conservatives and the Tea Party faithful. It was accelerated in part by appearances such as this one in 2008, during which she called into question the "pro-America" views of the Obamas and various members of Congress. HuffPost's Sam Stein <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/17/gop-rep-channels-mccarthy_n_135735.html" target="_hplink">reported</a> at the time: <blockquote>In a television appearance that outraged Democrats are already describing as Joseph McCarthy politics, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann claimed on Friday that Barack Obama and his wife Michelle held anti-American views and couldn't be trusted in the White House. She even called for the major newspapers of the country to investigate other members of Congress to "find out if they are pro-America or anti-America." Appearing on MSNBC's Hardball, Bachmann went well off the reservation when it comes to leveling political charges against the Democratic nominee. "If we look at the collection of friends that Barack Obama has had in his life," she said, "it calls into question what Barack Obama's true beliefs and values and thoughts are. His attitudes, values, and beliefs with Jeremiah Wright on his view of the United States...is negative; Bill Ayers, his negative view of the United States. We have seen one friend after another call into question his judgment -- but also, what it is that Barack Obama really believes?"</blockquote>

  • 'You Lie'

    Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) embodied a newly emerging brand of hyper-partisanship in 2009 when he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/09/gop-rep-wilson-yells-out_n_281480.html" target="_hplink">interrupted</a> President Barack Obama's major speech on his health care reform package. "You lie!" Wilson yelled over Obama, who was explaining that the legislation would not mandate coverage for undocumented immigrants. Wilson's outburst drew disapproval from both sides of the aisle.

  • 'Baby Killer'

    During the heat of the health care debate in 2010, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) added to the growing partisan discord when he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/22/randy-neugebauer-revealed_n_508525.html" target="_hplink">shouted "baby killer"</a> at Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) while he was delivering a speech on the House floor. Stupak, an anti-abortion Democrat, had been under heavy fire from Republicans after crafting a deal with the White House in return for his and other Democrats' "yes" vote on the health care reform bill. The White House held up their end of the bargain with an executive order affirming that no taxpayer money would go to fund abortions.

  • 'No Mosque'

    North Carolina GOP congressional candidate Renne Ellmers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/23/renee-ellmers-gop-congres_n_735585.html" target="_hplink">raised some eyebrows</a> and gave her race national attention when she released an attack ad attempting to link her Democratic challenger to the controversial Park51 Islamic center. The ad was criticized for its apparent interchangeable use of the words "terrorists" and "Muslims," as well as the fact that Ellmers' opponent, incumbent Rep. Bob Etheridge (D) hadn't even weighed in on the issue yet. Ellmers didn't appear to do herself any favors in her <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/27/renee-ellmers-north-carol_n_740199.html" target="_hplink">attempts to explain the ad</a> during a contentious interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, but she ended up winning in November after a late surge of momentum.

  • Alan Grayson's 'Taliban Dan'

    Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) managed to give his opponent, Republican Dan Webster, a boost after he released an attack ad seeking to label Webster as "Taliban Dan." The spot featured selectively edited quotes from a 2009 Christian seminar that <a href="http://www.politifact.com/florida/article/2010/sep/28/fact-checking-alan-graysons-taliban-dan-webster-ad/" target="_hplink">misrepresented Webster's words</a> to suggest that he believed wives should submit to their husbands. Grayson had repeatedly enraged his Republican opponents with biting and at times over-the-top allegations. Comments such as his notorious charge that their health care plan was for Americans to "die quickly" had made him a top target for the GOP. He would lose his election to Webster.

  • Scott Brown Pictures Stripped Elizabeth Warren

    Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) did himself no favors in the fall of 2011, when he returned a volley concerning his past nude modeling for <em>Cosmopolitan</em> magazine, a career choice that his Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren had earlier jabbed at. HuffPost's Ryan Grim <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/06/scott-brown-elizabeth-warren-senate_n_998048.html" target="_hplink">reported</a>: <blockquote>"Have you officially responded to Elizabeth Warren's comment about how she didn't take her clothes off?" the host asked Brown Wednesday. "Thank God!" Brown said, laughing. The host got a kick out it, too. "That's what I said! I said, 'Look, can you blame a good-looking guy for wanting to, you know..."</blockquote> His opponents quickly <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/06/news/la-pn-scott-brown-thank-god-20111006" target="_hplink">hit back</a>, claiming that the comments were sexist and "the kind of thing you would expect to hear in a frat house, not a race for U.S. Senate."

  • 'Debbie Spend It Now'

    Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) couldn't have picked a bigger stage to launch a now-notoriously insensitive ad against his Democratic opponent, incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow. In the middle of the Super Bowl, Hoekstra's campaign <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/pete-hoekstra-ad-china_n_1256791.html" target="_hplink">rolled out the spot</a>, which featured an Asian-American actress using stereotypically broken English to accuse Stabenow -- or "Spend-It-Now" -- of supporting U.S. government spending habits that benefitted the Chinese economy. The backlash was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/pete-hoekstra-ad-china-michigan_n_1256912.html" target="_hplink">bipartisan</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/22/pete-hoekstra-polls-china-ad_n_1294221.html" target="_hplink">widespread</a>.

  • Allen West

    Though only a freshman, Tea Party favorite Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) has already staked his political fame on inflammatory and controversial statements. His most well-known claim is now perhaps his contention that as many as 80 House Democrats are members of the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/allen-west-democrats-communist-party_n_1417279.html" target="_hplink">Communist Party</a>. His spokesperson later claimed that he was referring to members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Of course, that's just one of a catalogue of Allen West-isms. Click through the slideshow <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/19/allen-west-communists_n_1437517.html" target="_hplink">here</a> for a larger sampling.

  • 'True Hero' Battle

    Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) began digging himself a hole in July when he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/03/joe-walsh-tammy-duckworth_n_1646793.html" target="_hplink">suggested</a> that his Democratic opponent, triple-amputee Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth, was not a "true hero" because she spoke too frequently about her military service. In the followup, Walsh kept digging deeper on the Duckworth line, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/joe-walsh-tammy-duckworth_n_1650805.html" target="_hplink">claiming</a> that "all she does" is "talk about her service," instead of focusing on other issues. He <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/joe-walsh-ashleigh-banfield_n_1652236.html" target="_hplink">took a similar angle</a> in a subsequent interview, in which he managed to utter his interviewer's name more than 90 times.