Internet now a voter disenfranchisement tool

Scammers are using text messaging, Facebook and e-mail hacking to try to disenfranchise voters in the 2008 election.

Dirty political tricks are going Web 2.0 in the 2008 presidential election, with scammers using Facebook, text messaging and e-mail hacking to try to trick people into missing their chance to vote.

Scammers have long used fake flyers or automated calling banks to target groups of voters in hopes of either scaring them away from polling stations or tricking them into showing up on the wrong day.

But this year these dirty tricks have expanded. In a conference call with media on Tuesday, Jonah Goldman, a spokesman with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that these tactics are on the rise in 2008. "We're surprised at how ubiquitous it's become and how sophisticated it's become," he said.

His group had seen robocalls and flyers with this type of message in 12 states so far in this election, including Florida, Louisiana and Virginia. That's about twice as many states as during the 2004 presidential election.

On Facebook, for example, there have been at least three instances of fraudulent voting messages posted over the past two days, according to company spokesman Barry Schnitt. In each case, messages were posted saying that Republicans were set to vote on Tuesday, while Democrats would vote on Wednesday.

One of these messages was posted on the Facebook group page for Missouri State University, Goldman said.

The messages were quickly removed after being flagged by users and have been seen by only a small number of people on the site, Schnitt said. "Facebook is not a very effective way to do this," Schnitt said, adding that the company plans to refer the messages to law enforcement.

Youth voting group Rock the Vote says voters in Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Pennsylvania have received similar text messages on their mobile phones, reading: "Due to long lines tomorrow, all obama voters are asked to vote wednesday. thank you."

E-mail hacking has come into play, too.

About 35,000 students at George Mason University were sent a fake e-mail early Tuesday, also telling them to vote on Wednesday. The message appeared to be from the school's provost, Peter Stearns. According to the Washington Post, a hacker managed to route this message to the university via servers at wiredforchange.com, a Democratic fundraising company based in Washington, D.C.

"To the Mason Community," the fake e-mail reads. "Please note that election day has been moved to November 5th. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you."

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Robert McMillan

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