An unknown number of Alaska voters received emails Tuesday threatening them with unspecified consequences unless they vote for Donald Trump in the presidential election. State and federal officials are aware of the messages, which appear identical to ones received by voters in Florida on the same day.
“You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure,” the emails say. “You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply."
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the emails were only sent to registered Democrats.
The emails incorrectly claimed that the sender would know how the recipient voted. The state doesn’t record Alaskans' votes.
Voters in Anchorage, Eagle River, Petersburg and the Bristol Bay area reported receiving the emails, which contain identical text but were sent from multiple email addresses. One sender email address contains a reference to the Proud Boys, a far-right group that supports Trump and whose demonstrations have sometimes devolved into street violence against their left-wing opponents.
Members of the Proud Boys said on social media that they weren’t behind the emails, and reporting by The Washington Post indicates that someone else may have spoofed the group’s identity for unknown reasons.
“We are aware of (the emails) and we’re working with the proper federal authorities on that so they can look into it,” said Tiffany Montemayor, public relations manager for the Alaska Division of Elections.
Assistant attorney general Maria Bahr said the Alaska Department of Law is also aware of the emails and has forwarded them “to the appropriate federal law enforcement agency for review.”
Bahr clarified that in this case, it’s the FBI.
A spokeswoman for the FBI in Alaska declined to comment, and the Department of Justice’s Alaska elections officer said he will not comment about any ongoing investigations or whether they exist. Two weeks ago, the FBI’s Anchorage office advised Alaskans to report problems to the Anchorage field office by phone (907-276-4441) or online.
Evie Sorrell received one of the emails attributed to an address that was purportedly affiliated with the Proud Boys and reported it to the Division of Elections. Formerly of Eagle River, she registered to receive an absentee ballot in the August primary, but when it didn’t arrive on time, she registered to vote for the general election in Pennsylvania, where she attends school.
“At first, I was kind of like — I don’t know what to do about this, because I didn’t know whether to take it seriously,” she said.
Sorrell’s email address isn’t listed in the state’s public voter file, and it doesn’t show up in public data about absentee ballot requests, either.
“In theory, if it’s true, they have information that I don’t want a racist, sexist, militant group to have about me,” she said of the Proud Boys.
Chad Briggs is an associate professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage who studies disinformation.
“I have to admit this is an escalation from what we’ve seen before,” he said, because it involves a direct threat.
“It’s something that the Alaska state government, because they are in charge of the elections for Alaska, that they need to get involved in,” he said.
Brooke Binkowski, a reporter who formerly worked in Alaska and now studies disinformation nationally, said Alaskans should expect to see more disinformation and intimidation ahead of the election.
“I anticipate there’s going to be a lot more,” she said.
Sam Carella of Anchorage received one of the emails, but it didn’t stop him from putting his absentee ballot into a dropbox on Tuesday.
“I just saw it for what it was. I’m not afraid of it. I don’t actually think they’re going to take any action, but their words are definitely threatening,” he said.
He, like Sorrell, notified the Division of Elections, and both were told that the issue has been forwarded to federal law enforcement. Also like Sorrell, his email doesn’t appear in public voter files.
Sorrell said she thinks Alaskans should not be deterred by the threats.
“I don’t want people to be deterred from voting because of this. I feel that very strongly,” she said. “People should vote. People absolutely should vote.”