Patricia Washington awoke recently to an alarming phone call — a warrant was out for her arrest, the caller said, and she shouldn’t go vote.
Except, as far as she knew, that wasn’t true, the Texas City resident said.
The event left her shaken but determined to do exactly the opposite, she told The Daily News on Tuesday. In fact, she planned to vote later that day.
“It just got me all nerved up,” she said.
Washington is one of several Galveston County residents to report odd phone calls and text messages, discouraging voting or providing inaccurate information in the run-up to the national presidential election Tuesday between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Election season 2020, after all, wouldn’t be complete without a little chaos.
Law enforcement agencies across the country, in recent weeks, have reported and, in some cases, charged people in connection to instances of voter intimidation and misinformation via robocalls and text messages.
The uptick in such cases coincides with a tumultuous election season and an increasingly polarized electorate.
“I don’t think there are any doubts that stuff like this is clearly a disinformation campaign with the sole purpose of suppressing the vote,” Galveston County Democratic Party Chairman C. John Young said. “The only question, of course, is how are these people being targeted? I don’t know.”
Galveston County election officials and law enforcement officers told The Daily News this week they hadn’t received reports about phone calls and text messages. But Sheriff Henry Trochesset said fraudulent phone calls like the one made to Washington aren’t new.
“It’s constant,” he said.
Deputies have tried tracking such phone calls and usually find it difficult because they originate in other states or overseas, he said.
Residents who receive such calls should ask to meet the person at the sheriff’s office and alert law enforcement, Trochesset said.
Such calls are a clear violation of federal law prohibiting voter intimidation and should be referred to law enforcement, said Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida.
Similar calls have been reported in other states during early voting, McDonald added.
Two conservative operatives this month, for instance, were charged in connection with false robocalls that aimed to dissuade Black residents in Detroit and other Democratic-leaning cities from voting by mail, according to The Associated Press.
The calls falsely warned residents if they vote by mail in the Nov. 3 election they could be subject to arrest, debt collection and forced vaccination, according to The Associated Press.
Galveston resident Bert Feinman received a text message that, while not outright voter intimidation, provided misinformation about voting.
“If you are a U.S. citizen, you will need to provide a certified U.S. state-issued birth certificate, U.S. passport or a certificate of naturalization,” it said.
Out of those items, only a passport actually would be acceptable, Young said.
Feinman knew immediately that what the message said was untrue, so she ignored it, she said. Feinman already had voted.
“I’m kind of surprised they did it in Galveston,” she said.
In the days since, Feinman has wondered how whoever sent the message identified her, she said. Did they look through old voter rolls, for instance?
Although the message had no effect on Feinman, Washington said all the misinformation out there had made her more worried about voting in this election.
“I’d been afraid of sending in mail-in ballots,” said Washington, who voted using that method for several elections because of health problems. “They’d been talking about how you might get in trouble if the signatures don’t match. But I’ve gotten older, my signature might not look the same as it did a long time ago.”
That’s part of the reason Washington has decided to vote in person this year, she said. That, and to let election officials know about the phone call she received.
“If I have to put on two masks, I’m going,” she said.