Despite fears of violence, US election day proceeds smoothly

The Election Protection Hotline said it received reports of robocalls from 17 states discouraging voting.
The Election Protection Hotline said it received reports of robocalls from 17 states discouraging voting.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Despite fears of widespread intimidation or disruptions at polling places, voting for a vast majority of Americans proceeded smoothly on Tuesday (Nov 3) with sporadic reports of robocalls, text messages, and some live calls meant to confuse and deter voters, or scattered incidents, but few major problems.

"It's definitely a relief so far," said Daryl Johnson, a former senior analyst with the Department of Homeland Security who focuses on domestic terrorism.

But he warned that "the period after the election is going to be more volatile and higher risk because you're going to be dealing with the aftermath of the election results".

By early evening, most of the complaints around the country concerning intimidation centred on robocalls made to voters relaying false information. The Election Protection Hotline said it received reports of robocalls from 17 states discouraging voting.

The Michigan attorney-general, Dana Nessel, said in a tweet that callers were directing voters to delay going to the polls to avoid long lines.

"Obviously this is FALSE and an effort to suppress the vote. No long lines and today is the last day to vote," Nessel said. "Don't believe the lies! Have your voice heard!"

The robocall complaint came on top of live calls to people in Michigan that threatened voters in Flint and Grand Rapids with arrests if they showed up to vote, and a text message sent to voters in Dearborn that warned of "ballot sensor" malfunctions in the voting precincts. The message, which the state attorney-general's office is investigating, told voters that if they wanted their vote for their preferred presidential candidate to count, they actually had to mark the ballot for the other candidate.

The FBI also confirmed the robocalls.

"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 agency said in a statement.

In Michigan, voters also started receiving disturbing, typo-filled text messages about the contest between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden that claimed to be from the FBI.

The messages, which were sent to voters in Dearborn - which has the largest concentration of Muslims per capita in the US - read: "Urgent alert: Due to a typographical error, scantron ballots being used for the 2020 election has swapped sensors. If you are intending on voting for Joe Biden you must bubble in Trump and vice verse. - Federal Berue of Investigation."

A spokesman for the Michigan attorney-general's office said officials were still trying to track down the sender. The office sent out an urgent alert on Facebook and Twitter to make sure voters in Dearborn did not fall for the scam.

In Virginia, Kristen Clarke, the president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said robocalls went out warning voters that they might get sick if they went out to vote. "Stay home and stay safe," the calls said.

The robocalls were similar to those reported in Michigan, Texas, California, Florida, Kansas, Ohio, Washington, Georgia, New York, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania on Tuesday. Zignal Labs, a media analytics firm, tracked more than 14,248 mentions of robocalls on social media on Tuesday, the vast majority of them in Michigan, Kansas and Florida.

The "stay home and stay safe" robocalls had started during the campaign and were continuing during voting, Clarke said. Voting rights groups said voters in several other states had gotten similar calls directing them to vote on Wednesday, Clarke said.

All told, more than three million calls were made to some 800,000 people across the country on Tuesday, instructing them to "stay safe and stay home", according to data provided by the firm TelTech.

Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel who is helping to lead the Biden campaign's election protection efforts, said that the campaign was seeing "minimal issues and disruptions" around voting, and that "by and large, voting is proceeding smoothly".

Still, a few random acts of violence or intimidation did pop up. In Chicago, a man told the police that a group had clubbed his car with baseball bats as he drove near a polling site, according to Sally Brown, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Police Department.

For live updates and results, follow our US election live coverage.