Kansans frustrated by text messages containing incorrect polling place information

Voting confusion after text messages gave wrong polling information
Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 6:06 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Confusion and frustration. It’s what some Kansas voters have expressed after receiving text messages over the weekend pointing them to the wrong polling place. 12 News has learned from two of the groups named as senders that this was a database issue with a third-party vendor.

Kansas voter Nicki Scheid received one of the text messages. She was concerned because she said, “you want as many people as possible that are supposed to vote to vote.”

Scheid said the wrong information could lead voters to the wrong polling location, causing more frustration and confusion. So, she took her concerns to social media.

“I went ahead and posted it on Facebook because I wanted to see if anybody else had gotten it, and I saw several people had gotten the same, and all of them had received the wrong information as well. I kind of felt like it was more than just a mistake. I kind of got mad at that point,” she said.

Sharon Brett, Legal Director at the ACLU of Kansas, said by midday on Monday, her office had received some two dozen reports about the messages containing incorrect information.

“We had a number of voters reach out to us either through social media or through email,” said Brett.

The texts list three different groups as a sender: Voting Futures, Black Voters Matter and Voto Latino.

Black Voters Matter and Voto Latino are legitimate organizations, and in statements, both said the error was on the part of a third-party vendor called Movement Labs.

Black Voters Matter (BVM) said they didn’t endorse the text messages, and apologized for the confusion the messages caused. The group said steps are being taken to correct the situation.

“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,” BVM said in a statement to 12 News. “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.”

Voto Latino said it has halted future work with the vendor.

“We have been made aware of the issue and it is not our intent to create voter confusion. Our vendor had a database issue, and we are working to contact everyone that might have been affected with the correct information. Additionally, we have suspended any future campaigns with this vendor.”

Besides a website asking for an address to find your voting location, there’s limited information available about who is behind Voting Futures.

Movement Labs, the third party behind the texts issued the following statement:

“In text messages sent on behalf of Black Voters Matter to Black voters in KS, NJ, IL, NC, and VA, we sent text messages designed to encourage voting that may have caused confusion amongst voters. We take full responsibility for these mistakes and have issued correction texts.

Specifically, in some of our texts, we sent addresses and images of drop-box locations when we intended to only include in-person early vote locations. In addition, we didn’t specify in our text that we were trying to encourage voters to vote early, and so many voters familiar with their election day vote location were confused and thought we were telling them to vote on election day at an early vote location.

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.

This has caused a lot of confusion for voters and we are sending the correction texts referring voters to the secretary of state websites. We are deeply sorry for this and understand how crucial it is that voters receive accurate information, especially in this environment of increasing voter suppression efforts.”

The ACLU said the misinformation in the texts can be harmful and disruptive to voters.

“A voter might receive this message. Rely on the information contained in it, show up at the wrong polling location or be turned away, and they might not have the time to get to their correct polling location and therefore won’t cast a ballot in the election,” said Brett.

While steps are being taken to correct the misinformation, the Kansas Secretary of State’s office said voters should remain on high alert.

“The Kansas Secretary of State’s office does not third parties to contact voters or share election information on our behalf. State and local election officials are trusted sources for election information, and I encourage voters to contact our office or their county election office for assistance,” said Secretary Scott Schwab in a statement.

Kansas voters can find their polling place by contacting their local election office, or by visiting votekansas.gov or VoterView on the Kansas Secretary of State’s website. Voters can also contact the KSSOS Elections Division at 785-296-4561 if they have any questions or require additional information.

The ACLU of Kansas runs an election protection hotline (1-866-OUR-VOTE) where voters can report any issues they have concerning voting, like text messages, or get information about their polling place.