Students Receive Misleading Information on Election Day

Students receive misleading information on Election Day.

Nov. 4, 2008— -- Voter suppression has gone viral at the University of Florida.

Several students have received text messages from friends or anonymous numbers urging them to vote on Nov. 5 -- the day after Election Day -- when their votes would not be counted.

UF senior political science major Delaney Rohan received the following text message from a number with an Orlando area code Tuesday afternoon: "Due to high voter turnout Republicans are asked to vote today and Democrats are asked to vote tomorrow. Spread the word!"

Other texts announcing similarly false information have also been circulating.

Gavin Pour, a senior chemistry major at UF, received a text message from a friend at about 5 p.m. Tuesday: "News Flash: Due to long lines today, all Obama supporters are asked to vote on Wednesday. Thank you!! Please forward to everyone."

Students Call County Supervisor of Elections

Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter said her office has been receiving calls, mostly from students, complaining that they have been getting these messages, which can be classified as a form of voter suppression.

"Students were coming into polling places saying that they've received messages telling them voting had been extended until tomorrow," Carpenter said. "The students were pretty much not taking them seriously, but we just thought as a precaution we'd ask the university to send something out relaying that they're not true."

Just after 4 p.m. today, UF's vice president for student affairs, Patricia Telles-Irvin, sent e-mails to the school's more than 50,000 students, warning them about the false texts.

"A number of University of Florida students have reported receiving a text message today claiming that voting has been extended until Wednesday. This message is NOT legitimate and it should be ignored," Telles-Irvin wrote.

E-mail Targets School Provost

Other schools, such as George Mason University in Virginia, have experienced similar cases of voter suppression, but on an even larger scale.

Early today, students received an e-mail supposedly from the school's provost, Peter N. Stearns, announcing that Election Day had been moved to Wednesday.

In a later e-mail, posted on the Web site, another e-mail from Stearns went out to students: "It has come to my attention early this morning that a message was hacked into the system fraudulently stating that election day has been moved. I am sure everybody realizes this is a hoax, it is also a serious offense and we are looking into it."

Steve Orlando, UF's spokesman, said from the complaints coming in to the university and the supervisor of elections office, the texts being sent to UF students appear to be decentralized, and not the result of someone hacking into the UF database and getting numbers from students.

"It appears from what we can tell it's just sort of a viral chain text message," Orlando said.

Regardless of the scope, however, spreading any information that might dissuade voters from casting their ballots is illegal.

Mimicking Official Correspondence

UF Political Science professor Paul Ortiz, who researches presidential elections, said that since the 2000 election, similar efforts at voter suppression have resulted in people actually showing up to vote on the wrong day.

"How many votes does this take away from one candidate, I don't know," Ortiz said. "But it is serious, and if a person is caught doing this, it's considered a serious offense."

Ortiz said text messages spreading false election-day information appear to be a new phenomenon, particularly prevalent among increasingly wired college students.

He added that other forms of voter suppression have been striking the non-college voting public in different ways, such as automated phone calls, known as robocalls.

"The robocall people have been getting what sounds very official," Ortiz said. "The call seems to come from someone who's an election official. If you pay a lot of attention, you'd know right away it's probably not on the level. But you need to remember, people have differing levels of experience with voting."