‘Stay home’ robocalls on Election Day prompt warnings, investigation

A scourge of robocalls urging Americans to “stay safe and stay home” has gotten the attention of the FBI and the New York attorney general over concerns of voter suppression.

The brief message, which doesn’t specifically mention Election Day, has prompted New York Attorney General Letitia James to launch an investigation into the matter. James announced Tuesday that her office is actively investigating allegations that voters are receiving the robocalls.

“Voting is a cornerstone of our democracy,” James said in a statement Tuesday. “Attempts to hinder voters from exercising their right to cast their ballots are disheartening, disturbing and wrong.”

James added that such calls are illegal and will not be tolerated.

The FBI told TechCrunch that the agency is aware of reports of robocalls. The agency wouldn’t say if it is investigating the robocalls; however, a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security told reporters Tuesday that the FBI was investigating calls that seek to discourage people from voting, according to the AP.

“As a reminder, the FBI encourages the American public to verify any election and voting information they may receive through their local election officials,” the FBI said in a statement sent to TechCrunch.

The announcement from James follows subpoenas issued earlier this week by the New York AG office to investigate the source of these robocalls allegedly spreading disinformation. New York voters who receive concerning disinformation, or face issues at the polls, can contact her office’s Election Protection Hotline at 1-800-771-7755.

“Every voter must be able to exercise their fundamental right to vote without being harassed, coerced, or intimidated. Our nation has a legacy of free and fair elections, and this election will be no different,” James added. “Voters should rest assured that voting is safe and secure, and they should exercise their fundamental right to vote in confidence. We, along with state leaders across the nation, are working hard to protecting your right to vote, and anyone who tries to hinder that right will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that an interagency working group convened by Attorney General William P. Barr released a report to Congress on efforts to stop illegal robocalls. The report described efforts by the DOJ, including two civil actions filed in January 2020 against U.S.-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) companies, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to combat illegal robocalls. Despite those efforts, and even evidence of some declines in robocalls for a time, the presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled a spike in calls. 

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