Yesterday we posted about suspicious calls being made in North Carolina. The calls purported to be from a man who identified himself only as “Lamont Williams” and told people to wait for a vote registration packet in the mail and said, “All you need to do is sign it, date it and return your application. Then you will be able to vote and make your voice heard.”
Democracy North Carolina, a government watchdog, cried foul, saying that the calls went out to “black neighborhoods” and was evidently a vote suppression tactic since the registration deadline for the presidential primary has already passed. The North Carolina state elections board got involved and asked for the public’s help in determining the source of the calls, which apparently blocked caller ID from showing the number. You can listen to the call here (wav).
Now Facing South reports that a Washington nonprofit called Women’s Voices Women Vote is behind the calls.
The group’s spokeswoman Sarah Johnson confirmed to me that those were the group’s calls and said that they were part of an effort to register three million women voters in 24 states. The fact that the calls came shortly before the North Carolina primary, potentially confusing voters, was unfortunate mistake, she said. We’re “incredibly apologetic about the timing of this.” The group was simply working at such a “high volume” that it was “extremely difficult to tailor the mailing to every single state’s schedule,” she said. The calls precede the mailers, she said, because it increases the rate of response.
The group had also let the state board of elections know prior to sending out the mailings that they would be doing so, but the letter to the board did not mention the calls. You can read that letter, provided by the group, here.
The group is currently in the process of halting the mailed packets, she said, at the request of the Democracy North Carolina and the state board of elections. The calls have also stopped.
As for why the group’s calls had used an apparently fictitious persona named “Lamont Williams,” Johnson first said, “as far as I know, it is a recorded message.” But when I asked why the group had used that name when there is no such person working with the group, she said she did not know why the name had been used.
The group also used a female caller named “Julie,” Johnson said (although she was not sure of the name). She told me that she would check to see if there was any particular reason why certain calls were made by Julie and others by Lamont.
But that practice would stop, she said. “This not identifying ourselves on the call, that’s not something that is going to continue as we move forward. Our phone calls in the future will correct any confusion about the calls.” When I asked if there had been any particular strategy behind not identifying the group as making the calls, she said no.
A statement released by the group’s executive director is below.
Update: As Facing South notes in detail, this is not the first time that there have been complaints about WVWV’s activities. There have been complaints in several states.
And in Virginia this February, the state police there even investigated the calls as a possible identity theft scam, only to find that WVWV was behind them. The calls had gone out shortly before the Virginia presidential primary.
Statement of Page Gardner, President, Women’s Voices, Women Vote.
RE: Confusion Surrounding Robo-Calls in North Carolina
“This week, more than 276,000 North Carolina residents received a voter registration application from Women’s Voices, Women Vote. North Carolina is one of 24 states where we mailed a total of more than 3 million voter registration applications.
“In addition to the mailing, calls were made to mail recipients for whom we have working phone numbers to alert the household they would be receiving a voter registration form and encouraging them to register to vote. In advance of the mail, a letter was sent and calls were made to Gary Bartlett in the North Carolina Board of Elections Office notifying them of the intent and content of our mailing effort. A copy of the letter and a press release sent to North Carolina media announcing the registration effort is attached.
“We understand concerns have been raised about the source of phone calls placed by Women’s Voices, Women Vote. These calls were our sincere attempt to encourage voter registration for those not registered for the general election this fall. We understand North Carolina’s primary registration effort deadline was April 11, (other than those participating in early voting who may register and vote at the same time this week). We apologize for any confusion our calls may have caused. Our intent and purpose was solely to call attention to the registration applications we hope will be completed and returned to the Board of Elections office making thousands more North Carolinians participants in one of the most important elections of our lifetimes.
Women’s Voices. Women Vote has been in contact with the North Carolina State Board of Elections to work together to resolve any confusion regarding our voter registration efforts. Women’s Voices. Women vote is also working with its mail vendor and postal officials in North Carolina in an attempt to delay the delivery of the voter registration applications until after the primary.
“Women’s Voices. Women Vote is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to bringing the voices of unmarried women to our democracy. Our goal in this election cycle is to register 1 million of these women on their own, in turn helping to bring their concerns regarding making affordable health care, equal pay for equal work and a brighter future for themselves and the lives of their families, to the forefront of the election this fall.
“Already this cycle, our voter registration efforts have generated more than 26,600 registration applications in North Carolina. Women’s Voices. Women Vote first registered voters in North Carolina in 2004. Nationally, Women’s Voices Women Vote registered over 100,000 new voters in both 2004 and 2006. Since July of 2007, almost 400,000 additional individuals have returned our applications in anticipation of participating in the 2008 general election.