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E-Mail Hoax Tries to Give GOP a Lift

October 31, 2000|JEAN O. PASCO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

State elections officials are investigating a bogus e-mail message telling recipients that, because of an anticipated election day crush, Republicans should vote Tuesday while Democrats and independents should hold back and vote the following day.

The polls in California, of course, will be open for all voters on Nov. 7 only, between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The e-mail found its way to an Orange County precinct inspector, who alerted Registrar Rosalyn Lever. Lever, in turn, forwarded it to Secretary of State Bill Jones' office in Sacramento.

"Our precinct official asked if it was true, and I said absolutely not," Lever said.

It was unclear Monday how widely the message was distributed. An early version of the e-mail listed 35 recipients, but e-mail distribution often grows exponentially.

The e-mail says it's from the 2000 Presidential Election Commission, though no such organization exists. The message informs readers that because of larger-than-expected turnout, ". . .polling facilities may not be able to handle the load all at once." It urges recipients to pass along the message.

"One great thing about technology is that it gets more people involved, but it does have its downsides," Jones said Monday. "We're just trying to repeat the message that Nov. 7 is the day for everyone to vote."

The e-mail's creator could be guilty of voter fraud, a felony that carries a penalty of 16 months to three years in prison, said Jones' spokesman Alfie Charles.

Bill Christianson, executive director of the Orange County GOP, said he received the message at home. Though he initially thought it was a joke, "it could be very serious if people believe it," he said.

The message wasn't amusing to Orange County Democratic Chairwoman Jeanne Costales, who complained to Lever after receiving a call from an angry recipient. State Democratic official Bob Mullholland called the hoax a new twist in last-minute election dirty tricks.

"It certainly didn't come from a Democrat," he said.

Though the initial reaction was that the e-mail's message was amusingly transparent, state legislators have toyed with the idea of spreading the voting process out over several days. A recent city election in Santa Monica, in fact, was spread across a weekend in an experiment to see if voter turnout would increase.

The e-mail scam isn't the first to hit the Internet in the name of politics, Charles said. Jones' office recently helped stop auctions for votes on two sites and shut down two other sites, one that attempted to sell blocks of votes and another proposing to swap presidential votes.

Jones said he has confronted another false impression this election: Some voters mistakenly believe that the end of the state's open primary means they can vote only for the candidate of their party Nov. 7.

"They can vote for whomever they want," he said.

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