Letters from shadowy group intimidate voters, plus 7 stories you need to read

Voters and state election officials are questioning the ethics of a shadowy group’s attempt to shame Mainers into voting by threatening to publicize whether they showed up at the polls.

Letters sent by a group called “Be Counted, Inc.” under the name “Maine State Voter Project,” claim to reveal whether the receiver and their neighbors voted during the past three elections.

This photo shows the letter emailed to an unknown number of Mainers, which has raised ethical questions about intimidation based on voting history. (Names and addresses have been blurred to protect the privacy of the individuals named).

This photo shows the letter emailed to an unknown number of Mainers, which has raised ethical questions about intimidation based on voting history. (Names and addresses have been blurred to protect the privacy of the individuals named).

“We’re sending this mailing to you, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues at work and your community members to publicize who does and does not vote,” the letter states. “… After the Nov. 4 election, your friends, your neighbors and other people you know will be able to find out who voted and who did not vote. DO YOUR CIVIC DUTY — VOTE!”

Recipients from Gardiner and Pembroke contacted the Bangor Daily News over the weekend, saying they felt the letters were intimidating.

“Letters to family members at my address lists members of my family and six other town residents and their voting participation for 2008, 2010 and 2012,” wrote Kevin Stanhope of Pembroke.  “It contains errors. For example, it does not take into account whether a person is not old enough to vote or incapacitated and unable to vote (what if you were in a car accident and in a coma during the 2010 election, you were not able to vote). There are plenty of reasons why someone did not vote and this effort is misguided.”

A reader from Gardiner, who also received the letter, said the voter history attached to her name was inaccurate.

The group sent the letters under the name of “Maine State Voter Program,” and included a crest and format that seem to ape official state documents, possibly in an attempt to deceive the recipient into thinking the letter comes from an actual state agency.

Neither “Maine State Voter Program” or “Be Counted Inc.” are registered with the state as a  political action committee, and are likely not required to because they don’t seem to be advocating for any particular candidate or cause. An Internet search for both companies revealed little, except for reports from Kansas media outlets who say voters in the state have also received emails similar to these letters, and also felt intimidated.

The state’s Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions had also received complaints in the past week, and are looking into the issue, said spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski. She said that the group is sending the same letter to some voters via email.

Muszynski said some of the information from the state’s central voter database — such as names, address and voting history — are publicly available for get-out-the-vote efforts. That info is often used by political parties, she said.

“That information is all public,” she said. “It’s OK, technically, what they’re doing, but we’re seeing it as an ethical question. They seem to be shaming people into voting.”

Muszynski said it didn’t appear as if the letters had been sent exclusively to the members of any particular party, but to all kinds of voters throughout the state. She also noted that email addresses are not part of the publicly available information in the central voter database, so Be Counted Inc. is getting that information elsewhere.

I’m chasing political candidates all day today, so don’t have a lot of time to look into this group. But if any of you have received the letters, or know anything about Be Counted Inc. or the Maine State Voter Program, feel free to get in touch.

7 stories you need to read

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.