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Republicans walk US robo-calling tightrope

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The US Republican Party could be risking fines and legal action for a telemarketing campaign intended to sink Democrat opponents ahead of today's elections.

Election officials in the US state of Virginia have called in the FBI after voters received phone messages telling them to go to the wrong precinct.

The Democrat Party, meanwhile, has said it will file civil suits over endless automated calls to voters - called "robo-calling" - which in some states could cost the Republicans as much as $5,000 per call. That means the Republicans will end up paying millions of dollars if successfully prosecuted.

Democrats in New Hampshire have already pressured the State's attorney general to make the Republican's stop calling voters on the state's do-not-call list. Republicans estimated to have made 200,000 calls.

Households in bitterly contested state races across the US are being bombarded with automated phone messages paid for by the Republican party and designed to confuse voters. Some homes are receiving dozens of calls per day.

Calls are giving voters inaccurate information on where and how to vote or saying wrongly that they are ineligible to vote. Some messages are being phrased to convince voters the call is actually from a Democrat candidate with the result that angry voters are calling Democrat head quarters demanding they stop calling. The Democrats fear this will turn people off of voting for their candidate

Robo-calling is a common practice in US elections and fund raising, with companies contracted to operate automated phone banks. It seems the bar has been raised this election, with Democrats claiming the Republican Party has spent $2.1m on robo-calling.

The Republicans may have been overzealous, though. Aside from questions over whether robo-calling breaks states' do-not-call laws or FCC rules, there are questions over whether robo-calling can be counted as "voter suppression."

In the past, voter suppression has consisted of simple letters and post cards sent via snail mail to households, and that provide misleading advice or have warned people with outstanding criminal convictions they'd be arrested if they showed up to vote.

Meanwhile, e-voting machines are again causing election headaches. Machines are being blamed for polling stations staying open longer than planned thanks to long lines of voters. Problems are centering on inability to make machines work properly, and the inexperience of voters and poll officials in dealing with the devices.®

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