Election officials warn of misleading robocalls being placed to voters

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Election officials are warning that voters are being targeted by misleading robocalls, as reports surface nationwide of various calls telling people to vote on the wrong day or to stay home.

“We received reports that an unknown party is purposefully spreading misinformation via robocalls in Flint in an attempt to confuse voters there, and I want to ensure everyone who plans to vote in person understands they must do so — or be in line to do so — by 8 p.m. today,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday morning.

Separately, people across the country have reported receiving a similar call with a robotic woman’s voice urging them to stay home and suggesting that it could be dangerous to do otherwise.

“This is just a test call. Time to stay home. Stay safe and stay home,” the voice says, according to audio of the call posted by a North Carolina voter who said he received the call this morning.

At least two secretaries of states have received reports of the call. Nebraska Secretary of State Robert Evnen mentioned the calls on Twitter, and a spokesperson for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate told the Des Moines Register that his office reported similar calls to the FBI.

A senior official at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a federal agency, told reporters that the FBI was investigating the calls. The officials spoke anonymously as a condition of the briefing.

It is not clear what the purpose of these calls are, or the exact targeting of them. Canadians have said on social media that they have received calls, and Americans across the country have reported receiving them for months on social media and through a tipline set up by ProPublica’s Electionland project, which POLITICO is a partnering with.

“It is important to note that [we] tracked a variation of this scam back in July, which may have been a test run to see what could be achieved on Election Day,” said Jim Tyrrell, senior director of product marketing at Transaction Network Services, a telecom and networking company that has tracked the calls.

Tyrrell said they may be an effort to intimidate voters: “Voters should of course remain vigilant when it comes to election information received by robocall or robotext.”

It also isn’t clear who is behind the calls. Tyrrrell said it has been “an elusive campaign for the wireless carriers to track.”

“Wireless numbers are being spoofed and calling other wireless numbers, and the perpetrators are quickly rotating between outbound numbers … That makes it difficult to identify and ultimately block the callers,” he said.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel had charged a pair of far-right hucksters in early October for misleading robocalls over mail voting.

This story was produced with the help of tips reported through ProPublica’s Electionland project. If you experience or witness a problem voting, please let us know.

Eric Geller contributed to this report.

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