LANSING, Mich. — Two conservative election operatives are accused of making racist robocalls in the Detroit area that aimed to discourage people from voting by mail, Michigan’s attorney general said in a news release Thursday.
Jack Burkman, 54, of Arlington, Virginia, and Jacob Wohl, 22, of Los Angeles, were charged with making the calls in late August, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a news release. The calls went out to nearly 12,000 residents in the 313 area code, which covers metro Detroit and the suburbs in Wayne County.
Burkman and Wohl were each charged with one felony count of election law-intimidating voters, one felony count of conspiracy to commit an election law violation; one felony count of using a computer to commit the crime of election law-intimidating voter; and a felony count of using a computer to commit the crime of conspiracy.
Each charge carries a penalty between five and seven years in prison.
“Any effort to interfere with, intimidate or intentionally mislead Michigan voters will be met with swift and severe consequences,” Nessel said in the news release.
“This effort specifically targeted minority voters in an attempt to deter them from voting in the November election," Nessel said in the release. "We’re all well aware of the frustrations caused by the millions of nuisance robocalls flooding our cell phones and landlines each day, but this particular message poses grave consequences for our democracy and the principles upon which it was built. Michigan voters are entitled to a full, free and fair election in November and my office will not hesitate to pursue those who jeopardize that.”
The charges were filed Thursday in the 36th District Court in Detroit. Arraignment is pending for the defendants.
According to the news release, Nessel’s office spoke with attorneys generals offices in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. All of those states reported similar robocalls made to residents who live in urban areas with “significant minority populations.”
Nessel estimated that approximately 85,000 calls were made nationally, but there was no specific breakdown of calls to specific cities or states.
According to the release, the recorded robocall message warns about being “finessed into giving your private information to the man” and urges them to “beware of vote by mail.”
The recording has previously been provided by the office of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The caller, who claims to be associated with an organization founded by Burkman and Wohl, falsely tells people that mail-in voting, in particular, will allow personal information to become part of a special database used by police to track down old warrants. The caller also alleges that mail-in voting will allow credit card companies to collect outstanding debts. The caller also claims the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will use the information to track people for mandatory vaccines.
All of those claims are false, Nessel said.
Wohl and Burkman have a history of supporting President Donald Trump and attacking his political opponents, according to The Associated Press.
In Michigan, voters can cast an absentee ballot for any reason, either by mailing it in, dropping it off or filling one out at a clerk’s office, according to the AP.
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