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Oregon Elections Officials Warn Of 'Apparent Voter Suppression Scheme'

<p>A voter deposits a ballot into a Multnomah County drop box in this 2008 file photo. The county's voters will decide this election whether or not to keep electing sheriffs after a string of scandals have rocked the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office.</p>

File Photo

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A voter deposits a ballot into a Multnomah County drop box in this 2008 file photo. The county's voters will decide this election whether or not to keep electing sheriffs after a string of scandals have rocked the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office.

Oregon elections officials warned voters Friday about misleading robocalls that have been reported to the authorities. And now the Democratic Party of Oregon is demanding information from state Republicans.

The robocall tells Oregonians there might be something wrong with their voter status.

“A review of voter registration records in Lane County indicates that your voter registration may have been marked ‘inactive,’" said the recorded message, according to a recording provided to OPB by the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

The call goes on:

"This means you may not have received your ballot in the mail for next Tuesday's election. In 2010, Republican Chris Dudley lost his race for governor by just over 1 percent. In May, another race was tied and decided by the roll of dice. Don't let your state's future be decided by the roll of dice."

Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins said Saturday that it appears the Oregon Republican Party is behind the calls.

“The Oregon Republican Party has acknowledged that they arranged for making certain robocalls on a county by county basis. However, the investigation is ongoing given conflicting reports of the scripts used and callers reached," said Atkins.

The GOP says the Secretary of State's reaction may suppress Republican votes. The Oregon GOP went on to criticize the Secretary of State for telling voters to "'ignore the calls,' despite the tens of thousands of voters every election who need the very assistance the Republican party is attempting to provide." The GOP statement said the calls were meant to "reactivate inactive Republicans.”

The calls didn’t just go to Republicans. Among the call recipients in Marion County was OPB reporter – and unaffiliated voter – Chris Lehman in Salem.

The Democratic Party of Oregon has responded by pressuring the GOP to turn information over to state authorities.

The DPO "demanded that the Oregon Republican Party cease its misleading robo calls and release the list of voters targeted by the calls to the Oregon Secretary of State, the Oregon Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Justice to evaluate for possible illegal acts, including voter suppression, and to determine a timely remedy recognizing the election is in just four days."

Atkins isn't the only elections official concerned about the calls.

Lane County Clerk Cheryl Betschart said she’s gotten a number of calls from worried voters. She said all of them were properly registered, and some had already voted.

“This isn’t just Lane County; it has been reported throughout some additional counties," Betschart said. "We don’t want people alarmed. We want them to call if they have a question, or to check OregonVotes.gov. If they are active and registered, and certainly if they have voted, then they know that they’re good.”

The Secretary of State’s Office has asked justice officials to look into the “apparent voter suppression scheme.”

This story has been updated.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rob Manning has been both a reporter and an on-air host at OPB. Before that, he filled both roles with local community station KBOO and nationally with Free Speech Radio News. He's also published freelance print stories with Portland's alternative weekly newspaper Willamette Week and Planning Magazine. In 2007, Rob received two awards for investigative reporting from the Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists, and he was part of the award-winning team responsible for OPB's "Hunger Series." His current beats range from education to the environment, sports to land-use planning, politics to housing.