Modern-day voter suppression takes many forms: Disproportionately long lines at precincts in majority-Black neighborhoods, biased voter ID laws, and requiring the formerly incarcerated to pay off all their fines before voting, to name just a few. Political disinformation campaigns, in which individuals and groups spread information they know to be false or misleading, can also be considered voter suppression, particularly when they target potential voters on the basis of race, ethnicity or party affiliation.
In Michigan—a state upon which the presidential election could very well hinge—state officials are concerned about a robocall campaign telling people to vote tomorrow if they wanted to avoid long lines on Election Day. The campaign specifically targeted Flint, a city where 53 percent of the population is Black.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) vowed to “work quickly to stamp out misinformation,” reports the Washington Post, and federal officials say they are investigating the origins of the disinformation campaign. According to the Post, telecom industry experts estimate that Americans have received approximately 10 million robocalls in just the last few days advising them to “stay safe and stay home.”
Notably, the call didn’t explicitly refer to the 2020 presidential election or the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has spiked at alarming rates in recent weeks. But the simplicity and broadness of the message meant it could be left open to interpretation, and with fears running high about the potential outcomes of this year’s election, the messaging has the potential to sow further tension, confusion, or panic, the Post notes.
Flint wasn’t the only community affected in Michigan, which started processing its early votes yesterday but didn’t start counting them until today. In Dearborn, a mostly-white community near Detroit, suspicious texts citing the “Federal Berue [sic] of Investigation” said a “typographical error” meant those “intending on voting for Joe Biden” had to select Donald Trump, and people wanting to vote for Trump should select Biden.
“Dearborn voters, text messages are reportedly being sent to trick you into thinking there are ballot sensor issues,” Nessel tweeted. “Do not fall for it, it’s a trick!”
The crucial battleground state is expected to deliver its votes later than most other states, and its split-party leadership—Gov. Whitmer is a Democrat, while the state legislature is controlled by Republicans—could potentially mean protracted legal battles over the validity of many ballots.