Voters in Florida and Alaska reported receiving threatening emails telling them to “Vote for Trump or else!” in what appear to be attempts at voter intimidation and have pushed elections officials in those states to contact law enforcement for further investigation, according to CNN.
TJ Pyche, a spokesperson for the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections in Florida, told CNN that a flood of emails and calls on Tuesday from dozens of voters about the messages from an unknown person or group had prompted his office to swiftly alert local, state and federal law enforcement, including the FBI.
The Alaska Division of Elections has received similar reports and has forwarded that information to federal agencies for further review, per CNN.
While the emails appeared to be sent from an address affiliated with a far-right group, an analyst who reviewed one email told CNN it had been sent using foreign internet infrastructure.
In a statement to TPM, the FBI said that while it is standard practice to neither confirm nor deny an investigation, “we take all election-related threats seriously, whether it is vote fraud, voter suppression, or threats from cyber or foreign influence actors.”
While there does not appear to be any immediate indication that the emails are part of larger state-sponsored scheme to interfere with voting, national security officials have warned for months that the 2020 presidential election is a target for foreign operatives eager to spread disinformation. It’s also possible however that the emails are being routed through foreign infrastructure but are still originating in the United States.
The emails raise a number of questions — not only with regard to who authored them — but also whether they stem from a coordinated intimidation effort or are driven by a one-off effort by individual angling to stir up trouble in the final stretch of the campaign. As authorities investigate the emails, more light will likely be shed on their true origins.
Per CBS, a review of the source code embedded in seven of the emails shows the message originated from IP addresses linked to servers located in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Estonia.
“It could be that they are simply relaying through this infrastructure,” Dmitri Alperovitch, the co-founder of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, told CBS News. “In fact, given how this email was sent, using their web interface, that’s most likely the case — that the people behind this found a vulnerable server in Saudi through which they can route lots of emails.”
University of Florida spokesperson Steve Orlando reported similar emails landing in the inboxes of at least 183 people, including students, university staff and alumni.
A spokesperson for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in a that the agency is also aware of the “threatening” emails.
“These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections. Don’t fall for sensational and unverified claims,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also said it had received about three dozen reports from voters getting similar email messages on Tuesday in what appears to be a an effort to “discourage people from casting their ballots,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the organization, told CNN.
Roxanne Palmer, a Florida Democrat, said she found one of the emails in her spam folder that appeared to be sent from “firstname.lastname@example.org” and demanded that Palmer vote for Trump “or we will come after you,” according to a copy of the email obtained by CNN.
Chairman of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, said the email “is definitely not” from the far-right group.
“We have spoken to the FBI and are working with them,” Tarrio told CNN. “I hope whoever did this is arrested for voter intimidation and for maliciously impersonating our group.”
“This is someone spoofing our emails and website,” Tarrio continued, telling CNN that while Officialproudboys.com is one of the group’s websites it is down because they have migrated to another website.
Matt Shuham contributed reporting.