This is not uncommon for election county officials, but during every voting cycle they must deal with voters “phishing” — trying to defraud a person by illegally posing as someone else.
These instances are typically from unknown sources attempting this tactic during national and local elections.
"The questions tend to be very leading and almost seem to be testing us," said Robert Bergstrom, elections supervisor for Tuolumne County. "But we're the elections department, we need to keep a neutral stance."
Under the California Business and Professions Code Section, which is described as the Anti-Phishing Act, in section 22948.2. it states that," It shall be unlawful for any person, by means of a Web page, electronic mail message, or otherwise through use of the Internet, to solicit, request, or take any action to induce another person to provide identifying information by representing itself to be a business without the authority or approval of the business."
Bergstrom noted this is not phishing in terms of them trying to infiltrate or hack their computer, but more-so them trying to trick these officials.
"Legally I think there's a danger, if you were giving someone false information then you're disenfranchising a voter, that's of course something someone wants on an official," he said.
The neutral stance motto keeps them from committing what Bergstrom feels is the objective of phishing acts, which is just attempting to trick them into saying something wrong or looking for a personal reinforcement from election officials.
It could go all the way to legal action for officials if they're telling people sending in emails something that's incorrect, but Bergstrom doesn't know the repercussions for the other side, though there are phishing laws.
"Actually I don't know," he said. "They're not making any claim, it's nothing violent, so I don't think there's any consequence to doing it."
He has worked in Tuolumne County for a year, but before this, he was in Fresno County where he said this happened frequently, with voting staff receiving a great number of emails.
He recalled a situation in Fresno where someone sent in a ballot and wanted to know if they had voted for the wrong person by mistake. Bergstrom then responded to the person by saying that America has a secret ballot system and they keep no record on how an individual voted.
Bergstrom believes a good portion of these emails are not even from California and if they are they're generally under fake names.
"We have a list of all the registered voters," he said. "I'll look to see and these people won't be registered voters in California.
The elections department does get its share of angry voters who place phone calls, however, they tend to be more personal and identify themselves more often, according to Bergstrom.
They also check all emails regardless if they can tell if it's a fake account or not, and the phishing ones tend to vary from being noticeably blatant or very subtle.
The first email example below blatantly points out who the person is voting for and a lot of people when they're writing emails like with general questions tend to avoid that, according to Bergstrom.
Here are a few examples sent to Tuolumne County:
My name is Mustafa and I hope you are well. I found your contact information in a voting resources directory and I want to ask about the voting process. What do I need to bring to vote? I want to vote for Trump for president but I did not register as a Republican. Do I have to do that before I vote? And if I have to work late will I still be able to vote in time.
I have heard a lot on the news about identification. Are these changes happening in California? I was wondering what I need to bring with me to vote.
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