Calls to election judges a ‘serious attempt to disrupt’ voting

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A  barrage of automated phone calls offering false instructions to scores of election judges was “a serious attempt to disrupt” Chicago voting operations in the run-up to Tuesday’s vote, election officials said.

Between Friday and Monday, an unknown number of judges — the paid partisan employees tasked with operating polling stations — received the misleading robocalls, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

“Given the level of response that we received, we suspect it was a large number of people — we don’t know how large,” Jim Allen, board spokesman, said Monday. 

Some of the judges received calls informing them that they needed an additional training session before they could work a polling station, board chairman Langdon Neal said.  Only one three-hour session is required. 

Others were told that they needed to vote a certain way in order to work, though election officials would not say which way the judges were instructed to vote.

Danny Bravman, a Republican judge who will be working Tuesday in the 44th Ward, said he received two automated phone calls — one on Friday, the other on Saturday — from a number with a 224 area code.

The recording featured a man named “Jim,” who told Bravman that he was required to attend an additional training session. Both sessions were at “very out-of-the-way locations,” Bravman wrote in an email to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, which was released through a Freedom of Information Act request.  

“If I call back the number, it says that the message originated from a marketing firm or a paid political organization,” Bravman wrote in his email. “I haven’t received any official correspondence about additional training sessions. So it seems rather obvious that someone is impersonating the board of elections.”

A similar message played Monday when the number was called.

Reached Monday, Bravman — who’s worked as an election judge in Maryland and Missouri before moving to Chicago — said he had never before received a robocall giving false election instructions.  

Bravman was not told which way to vote. But he said election officials told him other judges were instructed to vote for whichever party they were representing in their official capacity as judge. 

That could conceivably help Republicans, Bravman said. That’s because there aren’t always enough Republicans judges, he said.

The implication of that being that people without partisan affiliation can sign on as a Republican judge to collect a paycheck.

Aaron Del Mar, the head of the Cook County Republican party, said neither he nor the county party were responsible for the calls. Joe Berrios, his Democratic counterpart, did not return a call Monday. 

Neal said emails were sent out to about 6,000 of the 15,000 judges in Chicago, letting them know that there is no second training session needed and no requirement that they divulge how they voted.

A spokeswoman for the Cook County Clerk’s office said some suburban Cook County judges also received robocalls. But she added that the suburban election judges disregarded them because the information pertained specifically to Chicago judges.  

Neal said he couldn’t recall an instance of this happening before in his 18 years as chairman. He added that the matter is under investigation. 

Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, said Alvarez’s office is not looking into the matter at this point. A spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan did not respond to a request for comment. 

In the meantime, Neal urged elections judges to “please ignore these robocalls.” 

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