CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Voters across the state reported receiving texts encouraging them to go vote, but they included the wrong polling location.
The automated texts caused major confusion for voters, who flooded county clerk offices and the State Board of Elections with complaints.
“We started getting the complaints on Monday,” Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections said. “So that’s when we became aware of it. And even some of our staff members got these texts. And the concerning thing immediately to us and to, especially to our staff members, is that they received a text, it greeted them, it said, if your address is as shown, then we believe your polling place is here.”
After a quick investigation, the State Board of Elections found the texts were coming from a company named Movement Labs. The company was working on behalf of three groups — Black Voters Matter, Voto Latinos and Voting Futures.
Movement Labs cooperated with the State Board of Elections once they realized their errors, according to Dietrich. The company sent out correction texts, but Dietrich is worried the damage may already be done.
“So in that case, if it discouraged you as a voter if you saw it and said, ‘Well, I’m not going to go all the way downtown to the courthouse to vote, forget it. I’m sitting out.'” Dietrich said. “Yes, that is a concern.”
Due to the company cooperating with state officials, Dietrich said there is no reason to believe the erroneous messages were intentional.
He encourages anyone who is confused about their polling location to go to the Illinois State Board of Elections website.
Voters in Champaign County received some of those texts with incorrect polling information. Aaron Ammons, the Champaign County Clerk, said it’s important to know in the county this year, voters can cast their ballots at any location.
Some of the texts people received came from the organization Black Voters Matter, sent through the third-party group Movement Labs. The texts said voters have to travel to Gifford, 30 minutes north of Champaign, to vote. Ammons said that’s not true.
“We were notified through social media and other people calling the office saying ‘hey, there’s a problem going on, we’ve received these text messages,’” Ammons said.
He added that the texts did not come through the Champaign County offices and doesn’t know how many texts were sent.
On Wednesday, he held a news conference to address the problem, focusing on texts from the “Black Voters Matter” group.
A spokesperson from the group said they don’t endorse the texts. They released a statement that reads:
“We’ve been made aware that text messages have been sent to voters via our third-party vendor, Movement Labs, which included incorrect polling place information. Movement Labs has acknowledged and taken full responsibility for the error, as BVM did not endorse these text messages. We are deeply sorry for the confusion that these text messages created and have taken steps to correct this situation. We are thankful for the community members and media representatives who brought this to our attention. Our mission is to build power in Black communities, and part of how we do that is by providing accurate information to community members who are often excluded from voter mobilization efforts. The last thing we ever want is for our outreach to be confused with intentional disinformation which is sometimes targeted to our communities. We look forward to working with community-based groups who would like to help us to be even more effective at building power in our communities.”– Black Voters Matter Spokesperson
“Our intention is only to support all voters in their ability to easily and legally vote at their assigned vote location and we have reached out to all voters that received a message from us to send corrections encouraging them to seek accurate information from their secretary of state.”– Movement Labs
Ammons said he’s not seen this happen before via text and believes only Black voters received texts through this specific organization.
Texts from other organizations were going to many people across the state.
“Don’t trust that text message, and make sure they follow the information that’s coming from the election authority here in Champaign County from the county clerk’s office,” Ammons said.
He added that if you’ve received a similar text, let his office know. That way, they can talk to the company responsible.