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- Michigan’s Secretary of State and Attorney General condemned the call for spreading misinformation in an attempt to suppress the vote.
A robocall targeting Detroiters falsely claims that voters who apply for and use absentee ballots are providing personal information that will be used against them.
"If you vote by mail, your personal information will be part of a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants and be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debt. The CDC is even pushing to use records for mail-in voting to track people for mandatory vaccines," the robocall says.
None of these claims are true.
The top elections and legal officials in Michigan jointly denounced the robocall, labeling it a racist and inaccurate attempt to dissuade the use of mail-in voting.
"This is an unconscionable, indefensible, blatant attempt to lie to citizens about their right to vote," Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a news release. "The call preys on voters’ fear and mistrust of the criminal justice system — at a moment of historic reckoning and confrontation of systemic racism and the generational trauma that results — and twists it into a fabricated threat in order to discourage people from voting."
"This is an unfortunate but perfect example of just how low people will go to undermine this election," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in the news release.
After Nessel’s office received one complaint last week, the state set up a website for those to report receiving the call and has received approximately 20 reports so far.
Authorities learned of the roughly 37-second call after someone who received it alerted radio station WWJ-AM (950). It's the only complaint received so far on this call, according to Nessel's office.
The speaker on the robocall identifies herself as working for a civil rights organization founded by Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, two right-wing provocateurs who are routinely accused of peddling misinformation. However, Nessel said the state is still working to confirm who recorded and orchestrated the distribution of the robocall.
"This robocall is fraught with scare tactics designed to intimidate Black voters — and we are already working hard to find the bad actors behind this effort," said Nessel.
Michigan’s voter registration application asks individuals to provide some basic personal information. Applicants must share their driver’s license or Michigan-issued state ID card number, the last four digits of their Social Security number or an alternate form of identification unless they are hand-delivering their application to their clerk’s office, disabled or eligible to vote overseas. This is required by federal law. Applicants must also share their first and last name, date of birth and address.
In Michigan, any registered voter can request an absentee ballot, which requires completing a form noting basic information voters would have already shared when they registered to vote.
But the robocall falsely suggests otherwise, warning Detroiters that voting absentee means "giving your private information to the man."
The call also falsely claims that when voters submit an absentee ballot, their personal information will become part of a public database. Voter registration records are available to the public and show a voter’s name, address and birth year. All other information, including the identification number used by the voter, month and day of birth, and phone number or email address if the voter included it are not publicly available. These details can only be accessed by the Michigan Secretary of State’s office as well as local election officials and workers. This is not information police departments, credit card companies or the Centers for Disease Control can access.
It's a felony under Michigan law to deter or otherwise disrupt a person trying to vote, according to Nessel's office. Someone convicted of this offense could face a $1,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
More than 1.6 million people successfully cast absentee ballots in the state's Aug. 4 primary election. In Michigan, mail-in voting and absentee voting are the same thing, and the method is a secure way to participate in the electoral process, Benson and other elections experts say.
But President Donald Trump and other Republicans continue to repeat false claims about mail-in voting, arguing the process may lead to a rigged or corrupt election. Experts say vote-by-mail does not give an advantage to either political party and election fraud in any form is incredibly rare.
This fall, more than 3 million Michigan voters — about 38% of registered voters in the state — are expected to mail in their ballots as the presidency is up for grabs and the pandemic rages on.
The robocall claims the personal information of those who vote by mail will be included in a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants, credit card companies to collect debt and the CDC to administer mandatory vaccines.
There is absolutely no truth to the claims. While the robocall says that the personal information of those who vote by mail will be exposed, there is no information mail-in voting makes public that isn’t already included in public voting records. Voting by mail does not require voters to share personal information beyond basic identifying information already required when voters registered with the state, and this information is used only for the purposes of administering elections.
We rate the call’s claims Pants on Fire.
Michigan Department of State / Secretary of State, "Example of false information being used to suppress voting in Detroit," YouTube video, posted August 27, 2020
The Office of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, "Benson, Nessel reviewing racist robocall seeking to suppress voting by mail," August 27, 2020
The Detroit Free Press, "Trump repeats false voter fraud claims as millions in Michigan request absentee ballots," July 22, 2020
The Conversation, Edie Goldenberg, "Research on voting by mail says it’s safe – from fraud and disease," July 16, 2020
Michigan Secretary of State, "State of Michigan Voter Registration Application," accessed August 31, 2020
The Office of the Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, "Is my voter record available to the public?," accessed August 31, 2020
Tracy Wimmer, Director of Communications, Office of the Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, text message, September 1, 2020
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