Thursday, February 07, 2008

Who Is Behind Voter-Suppression Phone Calls?

This could just be an elaborate practical joke, but voters scattered across Virginia have reported receiving automated telephone calls designed to cast doubt on their status as registered voters.

Here is a news release distributed earlier today by the Virginia State Police:

News Release No. 4
For Immediate Release: February 7, 2008


RICHMOND – Virginia State Police in cooperation with the State Board of Elections is investigating more than a dozen inquiries from residents across Virginia about a voter registration scam.

According to the citizen complaints, each one received a telephone call with a recorded message yesterday, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008 and today. The recorded message informed the individual that he or she would be receiving a voter registration application packet in the mail. Upon arrival of the packet the individual was being instructed to complete the enclosed form, sign it and mail it back. So far, neither state police nor the State Board of Elections has heard from anyone who has received the application packet.

Registrars from the counties of Amherst, Bedford, Charles City, Dickenson, Halifax, Henrico, Lancaster, Montgomery and New Kent, as well as those in the cities of Charlottesville, Danville, Galax and Martinsville, began receiving calls yesterday from concerned citizens regarding this matter. Upon receiving the inquiries, the State Board of Elections contacted the Virginia State Police and an investigation was initiated.

Anyone who has received such a call and/or a packet is advised to contact the Virginia State Police Administrative Headquarters at (804) 674-2026 or at

“It is not the practice of the State Board of Elections to leave automated recorded messages or ask voters to return their completed voter registration forms to anyone other than to their local registrar,” said Ms. Nancy Rodrigues, Secretary of the State Board of Elections. “Anyone who has a question about their status as a registered voter should contact their local registrar’s office or the State Board of Elections at 1-800-552-9745.” Additional voter registration information is also available at the State Board of Elections Website at

With any scam, one is advised to never provide personal information, particularly one’s social security number or credit card information, to unknown individuals over the telephone or Internet. If solicited over the phone or Internet for information, attempt to obtain a physical address, rather than a P.O. box or mail drop. Also be watchful of spelling errors, grammar problems or inconsistent information when receiving documents, applications, etc. online or in the U.S. mail.

The phone calls imply that the call's recipient is not properly registered to vote, and must therefore fill out and return the forms that will be sent in order to qualify to vote in next Tuesday's presidential primary. Some of those who have received these calls have been registered to vote for 20 years or more.

The State Police press release seems to suggest that the investigation is focusing on the possibility that these calls are a means to commit identity theft. My suspicion is that they are designed to discourage voters from turning out on Tuesday. Who would benefit by that is anybody's guess, but I don't think it's any of the remaining Republican candidates. That leaves two possibilities.

This is a developing story.

Update, February 8, 4:48 p.m: The Virginian-Pilot is reporting that the group behind these telephone calls is "legitimate." Noting the latest findings from the State Police, the newspaper says:
A day after State Police issued warnings about what appeared to be a case of someone trying to pull a scam on Virginia voters, authorities said today that all is well.

The voter registration drive is legitimate....

Women’s Voices Women Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, made the calls and sent the mailings, Geller said. The group said it is part of an "unprecedented" effort to get women registered. Trouble was, it also was largely unheard of. The calls to potential voters started coming even before the effort was announced in a press release issued Thursday.

The organization said it is targeting more than 228,000 unmarried women in Virginia and 22 other states in an effort to increase voter registration and participation.
The question remains, why was Women's Voices Women Vote calling voters who were already registered in order to encourage them to register? If they had enough demographic information to determine that the call recipients were single women, shouldn't they also have known they were registered voters?

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