Prince William elections director denounces misinformation campaign by right-wing voting group

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Mailers received by Prince William residents disseminated false information about not voting in upcoming elections. (Courtesy Facebook)

Threatening mailers circulated by a right-wing advocacy group in Prince William County that contain misinformation about voting have drawn the ire of residents and election officials.

The flyers, distributed by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Look Ahead America and operating under the name “Virginia Voter Assistance,” erroneously told voters the government could “seize their assets,” bank accounts and vehicles if they chose not to participate in upcoming elections.

The organization also falsely told residents who don’t vote that as a result they could lose Social Security income, Medicare benefits, unemployment benefits, child custody rights and concealed carry permits.

Prince William County Director of Elections Eric Olsen released a statement on Friday saying residents have called his office concerned about the mailer. Acknowledging the false information contained in the flyers, Olsen said he contacted Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth and Look Ahead America leader Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign staffer, to relay residents’ concerns.

“Should you decide not to vote, you can make that choice knowing that no government official is going to show up at your house the following week to revoke your medical coverage, seize your assets, or take your family pet as a result,” Olsen said. “That is not how voting works, and we would counsel organizations to be considerate and careful in how they message voters.”

The nonprofit responded in a statement defending the mailers and calling on Olsen to recant his statement.

“Virginia Voter Assistance’s efforts in Virginia are entirely truthful and within the law, and Registrar Olsen would make better use of his time helping voters cast their ballots rather than attempting to suppress our voter turnout effort with obviously false claims,” the group said.

The nonprofit began last month sending mailers and door-knocking across the increasingly Democratic county to reach conservative voters who may have skipped out in recent elections. Specifically, the organization is targeting in and around Manassas in areas Braynard described as “disaffected patriotic Americans of rural and blue-collar backgrounds” who are typically not fully college-educated and often work in manufacturing, trades or agriculture.

While the nonprofit remains nonpartisan because of its tax status, it’s communicating to inactive voters with talking points familiar to Virginia Republicans. Braynard said the organization is keen on adopting “high-pressure” tactics to turn out voters that parties and campaigns otherwise veer away from.

“Rather than pretending there aren’t very serious consequences to willfully refusing to vote, Eric Olsen should instead confirm the urgency and necessity of casting a ballot and help these disaffected voters sign up for an automatic absentee ballot so they can protect their rights and benefits,” Braynard said in a statement to InsideNova.

In his statement, Olsen said, “The message conveyed by this organization could have been accomplished without confusing or upsetting voters, but they specifically chose not to do that. How do we know this? They told us themselves when their Executive Director stated, ‘we don’t really care about blowback.’ As the Director of Elections for more than 300,000 voters, I have to care.”

The elections director urged those who wish to vote to participate in the upcoming election.

In 2016, Look Ahead America employed similar tactics to Trump’s benefit while also seeking to prevent “fraudulent” votes being cast from noncitizens or the deceased by deploying poll watchers with cameras, according to The New York Times.

The nonprofit has recently taken to backing defendants charged in connection to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by holding gatherings and vigils in Washington.

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