Robocallers Are Telling Voters in Key States to Stay Home. Don't Buy It.

In Iowa, residents received messages telling them to "stay home, stay safe and don't vote."
November 3, 2020, 5:59pm
A vote here sign outside a polling location.
A vote here sign outside a polling location. (Scott McIntyre/Bloomberg)

Officials in Michigan, Iowa, and Nebraska say robocallers are broadcasting false or misleading messages to voters—including some that say they should stay home on Election Day.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Tuesday that the state had received reports of “multiple robocalls” in Flint, a city that usually votes blue, and where more than half of nearly 96,000 residents are Black. The messages, according to Nessel, tell voters that they should cast their ballots on Wednesday (when voting is over) due to long lines.  

“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 narrowly voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, although Hillary Clinton won Genesee County, which includes Flint, by 52.4%. The state is considered a battleground this year, along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement Tuesday that the “unknown party” was attempting to confuse voters and spread misinformation.

“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,” Benson said. “Lines in the area and across the state are minimal and moving quickly, and Michigan voters can feel confident that leaders across state and local government are vigilant against these kinds of attacks on their voting rights and attempts at voter suppression.”

Officials in other states have also reported similar robocalls. 

The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office told the Des Moines Register that robocalls went out to residents warning them to “stay home, stay safe and don’t vote.” A spokesperson for that office said in an email to VICE News that officials had “received information about a call and forwarded that information to the FBI and State Fusion Center,” and that no further information was available at this time. 

False robocall messages telling people to “stay home and stay safe” also apparently reached voters in Nebraska. Secretary of State Robert Evnen assured voters on Tuesday that polling places were open, and they would be kept safe. 

Cindi Allen, a spokesperson for the Nebraska secretary of state, told VICE News her office had heard from a public safety director in the western part of the state Monday afternoon saying that a voter had received two automated calls telling them to stay home. The state is now investigating who initiated the calls and where they came from, she said, but hasn’t heard anything back yet. 

Misleading robocalls are nothing new in this year’s election.

An unidentified robocaller has made about 10 million such calls over the past several weeks, warning voters to stay home, the Washington Post reported. The calls apparently intensified last month, and have since reached almost every corner of the U.S., the paper reported. 

In August, residents in metro Detroit were bombarded with robocalls that falsely told them voting by mail would make it easier for law enforcement and debt collectors to track people down. 

Last month, Nessel’s office in Michigan filed charges against Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, two conservative activists, over allegations including voter intimidation and conspiracy to commit an election law violation. The charges were connected to the alleged robocall campaign in Detroit, according to the attorney general’s office, which has been in communication with officials in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois after those states received similar calls.

Wohl and Burkman pleaded not guilty to the Michigan charges, according to the Detroit Free Press. They were hit with another indictment in Cleveland last week over election-related robocalls allegedly made to residents there and in East Cleveland.