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Republicans' Oregon Robocalls Referred To FBI

Oregon Secretary of State, Jeanne Atkins.

Oregon Secretary of State, Jeanne Atkins.

Allison Frost/OPB

Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins said Monday the FBI is following up on a slew of phone calls from the Oregon Republican Party that may be confounding voters.

Atkins said the FBI is checking into complaints as they get them from elections officials.

“Where people have been willing to share their message or talk with investigators, county clerks have given the information to the FBI, who has been evaluating some of those — or all of them — as they get forwarded their way,” Atkins said.

Oregon Republican Party Chairman Bill Currier said party leaders decided to make the calls last week when they saw the numbers of inactive voters in the state. Voters typically wind up being classified as “inactive” because they’ve moved or because they haven’t voted for several years.

“There were still tens of thousands of Oregon Republican voters that were marked ‘inactive,’ so we set about to reach out to them,” Currier said.

The calls started drawing questions late last week. The Republican Party said the calls might be continuing, since the party’s call vendor is under contract to go through a list of thousands of voters and party officials weren’t sure if the job had been completed.

There are several versions of the automated “robocalls” that Oregonians have received. Currier said the script changed between Thursday and Friday, and he’s not sure what calls county-level Republican organizations may have placed.

One of the calls went to an unaffiliated Marion County voter: OPB reporter Chris Lehman in Salem.

Lehman had already received his ballot and voted at the time he received the call. The message ran about a minute and a half.

“A review of voter registration records in Marion County indicates that your voter registration may have been made inactive,” the call started. “If you have not yet received your ballot, this may be the reason why.”

The message went on to mention close races — such as the 2010 gubernatorial contest — as a reason for the voter to make sure he or she is registered. It concluded by suggesting the voter contact the county clerk’s office if he or she hadn’t received a ballot.

That call did not identify the Oregon Republican Party as placing that call, but Currier said the later version of the script did.

While the Republican Party said the overwhelming majority of calls went to voters who are registered Republican, Lehman is unaffiliated and has been for the many years he’s lived in Salem.

County clerks around Oregon said they’ve gotten a number of calls from unaffiliated and Democratic-registered voters who have not moved recently and haven’t changed registration. Some were confused or suspicious about the calls.

Atkins said the calls are confusing and may interfere with people voting.

“A good many people were confused by the messages that they received and concerned about it, and confusion does sometimes result in people opting out,” Atkins said.

Republican Party leaders aren’t buying that.

“That’s a stretch,” Currier argued.

The Democratic Party of Oregon has stepped in to press the Republican Party and Currier to shut down the call operation and turn over information to investigators.

“He needs to turn over his targeted lists to the Department of Justice,” said Democratic Party of Oregon Chairperson Frank Dixon. “What we’ve got going on here looks and smells like voter suppression. And in the last two days of a campaign, that’s intolerable.”

Currier said the lists have up-to-date information from the secretary of state’s database, and the reason it included voters who may have never been registered Republicans is an attempt to appeal to voters who “may lean Republican.”

“We used an algorithm to pick primarily, actual Republican voters, and then we added a few who we thought might be with us — and we got it wrong in some cases,” Currier said. “In some cases, we may have gotten it wrong.”

Currier said he feels, for his part, like the Democrats, including Atkins, are ganging up on the Republican Party.

“This feels partisan to us, and it feels to us like the actual suppression that they claim that we are doing,” said Currier. 

Atkins said she has not asked the Oregon Republican Party to turn lists over. But she said if the Republicans decided to do so on their own, it could help investigators get to the bottom of what happened.

“Well, if they voluntarily wanted to do that, it might help an investigation go forward, but it is not a request that we’ve made, nor has it been recommended by our attorneys at this point,” said Atkins. “You can understand that that would be a precedent-setting thing for us to require it.”

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