Calls, texts give false information to some Virginia voters

WASHINGTON — There were multiple reports Tuesday of Prince William and Fairfax counties’ voters being misled via phone calls and text messages about the location of their voting polls.

The NAACP in Prince William County said residents received robocalls that their polling location had changed, and Fairfax County’s Office of Electoral Board confirmed similar calls and texts in the region.

“A majority of [those receiving the phone calls in Prince William County], I would say, are probably members of the Prince William NAACP,” Rev. Cozy Bailey, president of the Prince William County unit of the NAACP, told WTOP.

Bailey said the number captured by voters showed that it was a Google robocall. The call falsely informed voters that their polling location had changed, and directed them to a location that, Bailey said, “in 100 percent of the cases so far, the voters knew that that was the wrong location.”

After Bailey got word of the calls, he ensured that Virginia State Conference of the NAACP was aware of the issue, and called the State Board of Elections so they could begin conducting an investigation in conjunction with the attorney general’s office.

Although Bailey clarified that his sources are purely anecdotal, he said, “Now my count has risen to almost 40 different reports. I understand that others are getting reports, also. There does seem to be a huge overlap [with] at least members of NAACP, primarily African-Americans.”

“My focus now is to get as many voters out to exercise their franchise as possible,” Bailey told WTOP.

“NAACP has been fighting since 1909 in order to ensure that people of all colors, specifically African-Americans, have the franchise. And so we’re getting them out there … [and] providing them information. If they really don’t know where to vote, then we can provide them information on how to do that,” he said.

Misleading text messages regarding a change in poll locations have been sent to voters in Fairfax County as well, according to the chairman of the Fairfax County Electoral Board Steve Hunt. Fairfax County’s Office of Public Affairs confirms reports of misleading calls and texts in the region.

“[The Electoral Board wants] people to know that those text messages are not coming from the Fairfax County Office of Elections, or it seems like anybody’s Office of Elections, and that we have not changed any precincts for this particular election,” Hunt said.

Hunt said that if you receive one of these calls or texts in Fairfax County, it is advised that you ignore it and call your local Election Office for clarification. In Fairfax County, that number is 703-222-0776.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also gotten involved.

Director of Communications at the ACLU Bill Farrar told WTOP, “Any effort to suppress or confuse or discourage the vote is very concerning. We at the ACLU believe that the vote is the traditional currency of our democracy and something that everyone has a right to and should be utilizing.”

The ACLU has asked that anyone who receives a message like this go to the Department of Elections website first, to see if their voting poll is where they think it is.

Farrar also advises to file an official complaint while on the website.

“And… if you happen to get a recording of that call — it is legal to record own phone calls in Virginia — or if you receive a text, take a screenshot and send it to us,” Farrar said.

Farrar said that the ACLU still is unsure of who or where these messages are coming from.

“They appear to be local numbers, but that’s not the reality,” he said.

Farrar believes that voter suppression has historically been a big problem in Virginia.

“We can talk about disenfranchisement as a voter suppression,” he said. “These are efforts that are systematized and go back many, many years… to keep particular groups of people from voting. It’s something that we fight against every day.”

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