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Elections officials warn public of polling site scam; company blames database error

Dustin Czarny
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Some voters in New York are getting texts giving them false information about where to vote in Tuesday’s primary. Elections officials are urging voters to ignore them, and the company behind the messages is blaming a computer error.

Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny first started hearing about the texts over the weekend.

"The texts are telling people about Primary Day, that they're eligible to vote in the primary, and in giving a polling place," Czarny said. "And the problem is, the polling place is egregiously wrong."

For example, some are telling a central New Yorker to vote in the Buffalo or Hudson Valley areas. The texts come from a group called VoteFTW.

In a follow-up text message, Vote FTW blamed a database issue for the incorrect polling places.

"It's come to our attention that some of the polling addresses we sent out were based on an error in our database, so please make sure you check the official govt website to confirm your local polling place," Vote FTW said in a statement, followed by a link to the state Board of Elections website.

A message sent from the group VoteFTW blames a database error for sending voters incorrect polling place locations.
A message sent from the group VoteFTW blames a database error for sending voters incorrect polling place locations.

But this isn't the first time Vote FTW has had issues texting misleading information to voters. The group was also accused of sending similarly misleading text messages to voters during a primary in Wisconsin in February 2023.

There’s no contact information on their website, other than a generic email form, and phone numbers on the text go unanswered. Czarny said elections officials in other parts of the state are seeing the same thing.

"I've heard from other commissioners throughout the state that this is happening as well," Czarny said. "So I don't think this is targeted in just central New York. You know, I don't know what the motivation is, or if it's just purely incompetence, which we can never rule out.”

He’s alerted The State Board of Elections and the Attorney General’s Office, noting this is something that can’t be ignored in this day and age.

"We live in a time with increased threats from foreign actors, from AI, from just, you know, social media, TikTok," Czarny said. "All of these places are ripe for bad or low-informed actors to make mistakes and cause a lot of problems."

Czarny and other officials say the best way to find accurate polling information is to go to your local county or state board of elections website.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.