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AG asked to investigate suspicious email to state reps on college student voting

By DAVE SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader

October 01. 2018 10:11PM




CONCORD — A mysterious email sent to most if not all state representatives over the weekend may be designed to trick some reps into telling college students they can’t register to vote, according to the state Republican Party.

“We believe this is a coordinated effort to get a state representative to say (in writing) to a prospective voter that they aren’t allowed to register to vote. We’re urging all representatives to ignore these emails as they are not true constituent emails,” NHGOP spokesman Joe Sweeney said.

Some Democrats, on the other hand, believe they are the target of the email campaign.

“They are obviously trying to entrap Democratic reps into providing false voting information to college students,” wrote Democratic Rep. Susan Almy in an email to fellow reps on Sunday. “It’s fortunate they are not able to send to new candidates with less knowledge of the law. I believe the AG’s office should try to find the real source of these.”

The email went to both Democratic and Republican state representatives, and both parties are advising their members to disregard what appears to be a well-orchestrated digital campaign. Democrats are asking the Attorney General’s office to investigate.

“I am sending a letter to the Attorney General, including some of the emails that people received and asking them to look into it, and if he deems it more appropriate, to turn the matter over to the U.S. Attorney,” said state Rep. Steve Shurtleff, Democratic leader in the House.

“Unless somebody wanted to have Democrats pointing the finger at Republicans and Republicans pointing the finger at Democrats, I don’t know what the motivation behind this was, but it’s strange indeed. Nothing appears beyond the pale anymore.”

Nearly identical

The emails are all similar to this one received by Republican Rep. Sean Morrison, R-Epping:

“Hi Representative Sean D. Morrison”

My name is Joe Martinez. I think you’re my representative, but I’m sorry if I’m mistaken. We had to look up our representatives in civics last semester, but since I moved for college I’m not sure what address to use.

Although I don’t intend to vote for you, I was hoping you could help me register to vote. Do you know if I can register with my parents’ address? Or do I have to use my dorm address? Can I vote for local elections in both? This is the first time I’m old enough to vote. As a citizen, I feel it’s my obligation to make my voice heard.

Thanks Sean,

Joe

PS: You would think a college would better explain how voter registration works!”

Democratic Rep. Amanda Bouldin received an email that was identical in every respect, with one exception. The email to the Republican rep ended with “As a citizen, I feel it’s my obligation to make my voice heard,” while the email to the Democrat ended with, “As a minority, I feel it’s my obligation to make my voice heard.”

“I read this email and immediately thought that it seemed like some sort of trap,” said Bouldin.

Responses posted

Republican Rep. Jess Edwards, who got the “citizen” email, took the inquiry seriously and posted his response on Facebook, prompting this reply from Bob Robertson of Manchester: “The socialists are pulling out all the stops. Trying to frame you for giving out false voting information.”

Edwards agrees that may be the case.

“We’re in an era of cynicism and political traps, so I think that’s possible,” he said, “but whenever I get something like that I just assume that some special interest group has established an email website and people who may be real and go to it are doing so from an authentic and genuine place.”

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Broadhead, who handles election-related matters, is more skeptical.

“All this looks like some sort of coordinated inauthentic behavior,” he wrote in a Monday morning email to a group of representatives who forwarded their messages to him. “Please preserve these emails until we can arrange for their transfer to a DOJ investigator.”

Tracking device

There may be political motives at work, but it’s also possible that representatives, whose email addresses are available on the State House website, are being targeted for other reasons.

Democratic Rep. David Lisle traced the origin of the emails to an unspecified location in Kansas by analyzing the IP address.

Bouldin discovered an email tracking device attached as a hidden image in the email, hosted by YAMM.

“I googled YAMM, and it stands for Yet Another Mail Merge. It’s basically a free program that allows you to create a plethora of emails that appear to be personalized and send them on a schedule, automatically,” she said.

“From there, you can amass data on who is most likely to open emails, what types of email headers get their attention, etc. I don’t know why this is happening or what the goal is (for all we know, it’s a university experiment or something), but it’s also possible for the sender to eventually figure out which rep is inexperienced enough to download a malicious program.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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