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Thousands of voters plagued by inaccurate voicemail robocalls


Confusing calls trace back to candidate, political firm

If you received a pre-recorded phone call last week stating you were listed as an inactive voter, you’re not alone. Around 42,000 such automated calls were placed statewide, many to the wrong recipients.

The message urged listeners to immediately contact their local elections office because they were registered as “de-active status.” However, many of the individuals called were current voters whose records were up-to-date. The Oregon office Secretary of State had no knowledge of the “robocalls,” and after fielding complaints out of nearly every county in the state, investigated the origin of the calls.

Tualatin’s State Rep. Julie Parrish (R - West Linn) took credit for the calls and said she was trying to address what she views as an issue of disenfranchisement. She said Wednesday she purchased voter files from the Office of the Secretary of State and identified voters whose registration was inactive. This can happen if a voter does not submit a single ballot over a five-year period.

Parrish said she took up the issue when one of her constituents described how a clerical error had prevented him from voting in a recent election.

“Vote by mail is both a blessing and a curse” if voter files rely on out-of-date addresses and information, Parrish said. She found that at least 30,000 telephone numbers were out of date.

“Data integrity matters,” said Parrish, owner of the online community Coupon Girl. “My concern is that there are some data integrity problems” with voter files.

She hopes to introduce legislation that would require the secretary of state to do more outreach relating to voter registration status and call on that office to do more extensive cross-referencing between marriage licenses and voter files to avoid duplicate or mis-delivered ballots.

But confusion around the calls’ unclear origin left many Oregon voters upset. Also problematic was the fact the Oregon Small Business Association was identified as a sponsor of these calls, when in fact the organization had no involvement in the project. Political consultant Tim Trickey took responsibility for the mistake, saying that automated calling was one of many projects he was coordinating during campaign season through his firm, Northwest Market Research, and that he “failed to do due diligence” and confused OSBA’s involvement.

“As a vendor, we made a critical error here and embarrassed them horribly,” he said, adding that OSBA had been gracious when he apologized for the mistake.

While Parrish argued the robocalling system would be inexpensive, she did not have a projected cost analysis available. One transaction accessed through the secretary of state’s records shows that Friends of Julie Parrish paid NMR $5,950 on Sept. 20 of this year, but Parrish said that was unrelated to the voter registration initiative and that NMR is a “vendor for personal outreach” in her re-election campaign.

Oregon’s voter registration deadline is Oct. 16. To check the status of your voter registration, visit oregonvotes.gov.