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Women’s GOTV Group Behind Deceptive Calls, Mailings

The group behind the misleading, confusing, and racially charged robo-call which caused investigative intrigue Monday was revealed today as Women's Voices, Women's Votes (WVWV), an ostensibly progressive and non-partisan electoral engagement organization with ties to the Clinton campaign.

A report by the Institute for Southern Studies unveiled the connection after Democracy NC issued a complaint to the State Board about the robo-calls earlier this week. 

Officially, Women's Voices Women's Votes' stated mission is to engage more "unmarried women" in the election process, and it claims to be leading a 3 million person nationwide registration effort.  However, the sincerity of this mission has been called into question with the revelation that Women's Voices was behind the misleading and confusing robo-calls placed to thousands of North Carolina residences late last week.  The calls provided vague information that caused many registered voters to question whether they were registered to vote.  It was also revealed that the organization was behind similarly dubious "registration efforts" in Virginia, Ohio and other states.

Both the North Carolina robo-call and the registration mailing planned for 276,000 North Carolina households come weeks after North Carolina's by-mail primary registration deadline, giving further cause to suspect it is not part of a legitimate voter registration effort.  Critics point out that the calls and mailings instead come just as North Carolinians are voting in mass in the state's primary, and has the potential to cause confusion for hundreds of thousands of voters.  Critics also point out that the message seems purposefully targeted at African-Americans and others who are already registered.

The Obama campaign has called the calls "extremely disturbing" and said they are similar to classic "voter suppression" techniques. 

Attorney General Roy Cooper has said the calls are illegal and has sent the group a strongly worded letter telling them to cease their calls

At the State Board's and Democracy NC's urging Women's Voices has apologized for "the confusion" and said they will try and intercept the mailing, but it is not yet known if this will be possible.

Here's WVWV founder and President Page Gardner's response to "the confusion" and their involvement 

The group's earlier robo-call featured a racially charged message from a "Lamont Williams" urging people to "make their voices heard," to anticipate voter registration packets in the mail, and then sign and return them.  However, it included no information about the date of the election, early voting or same day voter registration, and was placed to many residences where voters were already registered.  The message did not cite Women's Voices Women's Vote's involvement or provide a call back number.  You can hear a recording of the message here.

Chris Kromm at the Institute for Southern Studies has an exclusive report about the controversy. 

The report is all over the blogosphere and has been linked to at Daily Kos , Talking Points Memo, Politico , and America Blog .

Kromm writes:

"For such a sophisticated and well-funded operation, which counts among its ranks some of the country's most seasoned political operatives, such missteps are peculiar, as is the surprise expressed by Women's Voices staff after each controversy.

In at least two states, the timing of Women's Voices' activities have raised alarm that they are attempting to influence the outcome of a primary.  As we reported earlier, in Virginia, news reports surfaced the first week in February that prospective voters were receiving anonymous robo-calls telling voters that they were about to receive a voter registration packet in the mail."

Here's what Bob Hall at Democracy NC said about it before and now: 

"The reports from other states are very disturbing, especially the pattern of mass confusion among targeted voters on the eve of a state's primary," Democracy North Carolina's Bob Hall tells Facing South. "These are highly skilled political operatives — something doesn't add up. Maybe it's all well-intended and explainable. At this moment, our first priority is to stop the robo-calls and prevent the chaos and potential disenfranchisement caused by this group sending 276,000 packets of registration forms into North Carolina a few days before a heated primary election. We need their immediate cooperation."

Here's a clarification about how voter registration actually works in North Carolina put together by the Center for Voter Education.

7 Comments

  1. Chris

    April 30, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    And how many of you immediately jumped to the assumption that HAD to be some conservative group trying to play the race card…

    Don’t worry, we won’t wait for your apology.

  2. Chase F

    April 30, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    Who said Women’s Voices Women’s Votes wasn’t a “conservative” organization…?

    Voter suppression, no matter who perpetrates it, is an inherently anti-democratic and right-wing technique.

  3. Rob Schofield

    April 30, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks for providing the scoop, Chase. Keep up the good work. As is being noted on other blogs, this group has the Clinton campaign written all over it (Podesta, Goode, Greenberg, etc…). Very disturbing.

  4. Chase F

    April 30, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Yeah, Facing South fleshes out the Clinton campaign connections here:
    http://southernstudies.org/facingsouth/2008/04/same-firm-does-voter-contact-work-for.asp

  5. Adam Searing

    April 30, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    This is really a new low for Clinton. Pretty bad timing by the Governor on his endorsement.

  6. Jerimee

    April 30, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes matter of fact statements about how this is just a slight miscalculation are shocking in their lack of remorse. I don’t know how to interpret their seemingly cavalier attitude.

    It’s as if they either believe that it really is only a trivial mistake, or if they think voter suppression is a legitimate tactic.

    Moreover, some notable progressives are also claiming this is merely an unfortunate coincidence, a conclusion which seems to contrast sharply with what I understand to be the facts.

    Chase I hope you and Chris Kromm and others continue to follow up on this troubling story. Thanks for your work.

  7. Jerimee

    May 1, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    This is a statement from James Rucker, Executive Director of ColorOfChange.org:

    There have been clear errors in planning and execution on the part of Women’s Voices Women’s Votes, and those errors have led to a situation where Black voters in North Carolina may be dissuaded from voting in a hotly contested and important primary election. This is a major problem and point of concern. To continue in the important role they’ve played in past elections, Women’s Voices Women’s Votes must fix the damage done and prevent it from happening in the future–working to restore the faith of the community protecting access to the vote by all people. It is essential that groups doing voter registration operate within the law and that they ensure that they do not confuse voters in to the process of doing their work.

    At the same time, the accusations that the errors made by Women’s Voices Women’s Votes are part of a conspiracy to help Senator Clinton, appear to be false and reckless. Women’s Voices Women’s Votes has a history of registering voters of color, and the facts as we understand them, simply don’t point to such a conspiracy. As Women’s Voices Women’s Votes takes deserved heat for whatever damage they’ve caused, it’s not productive for them to be unfairly maligned as working to harm or help one of the presidential primary candidates.

    As an organization that is tirelessly fighting voter suppression in the Black community where a history of disenfranchisement necessitates a raised level of scrutiny, we must take any accusations seriously, but in doing so rely on the facts.