Robo-Calls and Other 2006 Election Irregularities

Congresspedia is tracking the reports of irregularities in the 2006 congressional elections, which include problems with electronic voting machines, voter suppression tactics and even voter registration fraud. These issues, which came as little surprise to many, were not confined to one state or region, but rather propped up in nearly every corner of the country.

One widespread controversy involved the use of “robo-calls,” or automated telephone calls, in the weeks preceding the elections. These calls, the vast majority of which were paid for and authorized by the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC), were reported in at least 53 competitive House districts. The NRCC-sponsored calls typically began with an automated voice saying, “Hello, I’m calling with information about [Democratic candidate],” not revealing that they were sponsored by the GOP until the end of the call, which left residents under the impression that the call was from a Democratic candidate if they hung up before the call was over. Indeed, numerous Democratic campaign offices around the country received complaints and requests to halt the calls. In addition, many voters later expressed that the calls led them to oppose Democratic candidates at the polls.

This robo-call tactic, while considered unethical by many, also has potential legal implications. FCC regulations require makers of prerecorded phone messages to, “at the beginning of the message, state clearly the identity of the business, individual, or other entity that is responsible for initiating the call.” Also, telephone solicitations to residential subscribers “before the hour of 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.” are prohibited. Many citizens reported being woken up by robo-calls as late as 2:30 a.m. In several states, such as Indiana and New Hampshire, the calls were ordered to cease because they violated state law. On November 6, the day before the elections, Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, FCC chairman Kevin Martin and FEC chairman Michael Toner to probe whether the NRCC calls violated federal law. The FCC would neither confirm nor deny an ongoing investigation into the matter, while a representative from the FEC said that the agency has no record of a complaint. Congresspedia also contacted the Justice Department, but has not yet received a response.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) responded to the robo-call reports by introducing the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2006 last week. The bill would make it illegal for anyone to knowingly attempt to prevent others from exercising his or her right to vote by providing deceptive information (i.e. robo-calls that do not make their sponsor clear). Violators would face a criminal penalty of up to one-year in prison and a fine of $100,000.

Robo-calls were reported in the following states in the days and weeks surrounding the elections: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Another significant report of election irregularities came out of Missouri, where four employees of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a group aimed at improving minority and low-income communities, were indicted for submitting phony registration forms for new voters. In one case, seven applications from one person were found, as well as an application for a deceased man. Other application cards had false addresses, signatures and phone numbers.

In addition, reports of voter intimidation, one even involving a gun, flowed out of several states, including Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia.

We're going to continue following this issue on Congresspedia's 2006 Election Irregularities and 2006 Robo Calls articles, both of which contain state-by-state breakdowns and the sources for all the reports. However, because we're a wiki, anyone can help out by logging reports of robo-calls or other irregularities (and the responses of state and federal authorities) under their respective states on those pages. Just click the "edit" tab at the top of the page!