Robocalls to Potential Voters Being Investigated by FBI, States

Officials across the country are investigating reports of suspicious robocalls that may be intended to suppress the vote.

In Michigan, some voters received calls urging them to vote tomorrow, officials there said. New York Attorney General Letitia James announced her office is investigating calls encouraging people to stay home on Election Day, and Nebraska’s Secretary of State Robert Evnen said his office has received reports of anonymous phone calls telling voters to “stay home and stay safe.”

The FBI is investigating reports of robocalls telling people to stay home because of long lines at the polls, according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter. The FBI wouldn’t confirm the inquiry, saying, “We are aware of reports of robocalls and have no further comment.”

Robocalls aren’t uncommon during political campaigns, including to try to suppress the vote. “Vote suppression does not just come from robocalls,” according to a 2009 paper in the Michigan Technology Law Review. “However, among all the other various forms for which vote suppression may occur, robocalls bring something extra to the table--they can do it quicker and cheaper.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a tweet that her office has received reports of “multiple robocalls going to Flint residents that, due to long lines, they should vote tomorrow.

“Obviously this is FALSE and an effort to suppress the vote,” Nessel wrote on Twitter. “No long lines and today is the last day to vote. Don’t believe the lies. Have your voice heard!”

Michigan officials said they countered the robocalls with a press release as well as tweets from the governor and secretary of state’s office. A U.S. official monitoring Election Day issues said he believed those efforts have been effective.

It’s not entirely clear if the robocalls encouraging voters to stay home are election related.

Alex Quilici, chief executive officer of YouMail Inc., a telecommunications security company, said the company has detected millions of the “stay home” calls throughout October, and that many don’t mention voting or the election. One version of the call says, “This is just a test call...Time to stay home. Stay safe and stay home,” according to Quilici.

“Today is on the higher end of that volume but doesn’t seem to be accelerating beyond that,” he said. “We don’t know for sure that this is election related, though with the ‘stay home’ messaging that is certainly a possibility.”

Quilici said the calls have been received in 316 area codes, “which is basically everywhere.” It’s not clear who is behind them.

In a statement, James said, “Voting is a cornerstone of our democracy. Attempts to hinder voters from exercising their right to cast their ballots are disheartening, disturbing, and wrong. What’s more is that it is illegal, and it will not be tolerated.”

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