Tech reporter Kari Paul reports from Oakland, California:
Millions of US voters have reported receiving suspicious and misleading robocalls encouraging them to stay home on Tuesday to avoid long lines at the polls.
Voters in at least four states including Michigan, California, New York, North Carolina, and Georgia have received calls encouraging to vote on Wednesday — when polls will be closed — instead of Tuesday. It appears the calls are a direct attempt at misinformation and voter suppression as they generally cut off after telling people to stay home, without any efforts to get money from victims.
The calls have apparently been detected around the US for at least the last several weeks, according to YouMail, a robocall blocking app. More than 10m phone numbers have received such calls, the company said.
“If you wanted to cause havoc in America for the elections, one way to do it is clearly robocalling,” YouMail CEO Alex Quilici told the Washington Post. “This whole thing is exposing [that] it can be very difficult to react quickly to a large calling volume campaign.”
Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel confirmed Tuesday that residents of Flint and Dearborn, Michigan had received such calls. “Don’t believe the lies!” she tweeted. “Have your voice heard!”
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called on voters who receive such calls to file reports with the agency. FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks tweeted on Tuesday that the agency will be opening an investigation into the incidents. “Illegal robocalls and robotexts that seek to impact our elections are unacceptable,” he said.
These kinds of calls are particularly difficult to track, according to Jim Tyrrell of telecom networking firm Transaction Network Services. That’s because perpetrators “spoof” or mask their phone numbers as other numbers to make such calls. They often make hundreds of calls from each spoofed number before abandoning it. He said TNS detected a similar campaign in July, which was perhaps a test run for what we are seeing today.
“From our analysis, the ‘stay home, stay safe’ robocalls popping up in states like Michigan have proven to be an elusive campaign for the wireless carriers to track,” he said.
New York attorney general Leticia James also said in a tweet on Tuesday she will be investigating robocalls spreading misinformation. and hold perpetrators accountable “to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Attempts to hinder voters from exercising their right to cast their ballots are disheartening, disturbing, and wrong,” James said on Twitter. “What’s more is that it is illegal, and it will not be tolerated.”