Alaskans across the state received emails Tuesday morning warning them to “vote for Trump or else,” in an incident that’s drawn the attention of the FBI and the state Division of Elections.
In emails and social media posts, more than a dozen Alaskans reported that messages were sent to people in Anchorage, Eagle River, Soldotna, Kenai, Homer, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Ketchikan, Bristol Bay, Denali Park, Palmer and the Fairbanks area.
News reports from Florida indicated that the same messages were sent to at least 183 voters there.
In a copy of the email shared by Anchorage resident Kane Stanton, the sender told Stanton that “we are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone).”
“You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure,” said the message to Stanton, a 36-year-old hardware store manager. “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.”
The emails also said the senders would know how Alaskans voted. But that’s not possible: The Alaska Constitution guarantees the secrecy of residents’ ballots.
Federal law bars voter intimidation. But officials would not release details about their response to reports of the emails Tuesday, or speak to the seriousness of the threat.
A spokeswoman for the Division of Elections, Tiffany Montemayor, said only that the state is aware of the emails and sent them “to the appropriate federal agency for their review.” She would not address the senders’ claims about gaining access to Alaska’s voting infrastructure.
An Anchorage-based FBI spokeswoman, Chloe Martin, said her agency is also aware of the emails but declined to answer questions. She cited a statement released by the Anchorage FBI office earlier this month saying that the agency is monitoring potential threats to Americans’ voting rights and that violations of federal law in Alaska will not be tolerated.
The emails were sent from multiple addresses, according to copies shared with Alaska Public Media and posted to social media. One was sent from “firstname.lastname@example.org,” and the one sent to Stanton came from “email@example.com.”
CBS News reported that the messages came from internet addresses linked to servers in the Middle East and Estonia — though the story quoted a cybersecurity expert as saying that the messages could have been routed through the servers from “nearly anywhere” and that there’s no evidence that they were orchestrated by a foreign government.
It’s also not clear how the senders obtained the email addresses of the Alaskans who received the messages Tuesday. The state does not include email addresses as part of voters’ records in Alaska’s voter registration system, said Montemayor, the elections division spokeswoman.
But some email addresses used for absentee voting, along with party registration, can be accessed through a public website designed to allow Alaskans to search for their own voter information.
Stanton, the Anchorage resident who received one of the emails, said he didn’t feel intimidated by the message, but shared it with Alaska Public Media in case others were.
“My first reaction was, ‘Are you kidding me? Bring it,’ just because that’s my personality and I don’t scare very easily. But I understand the gravity of the situation,” he said in a phone interview. “Others might not be as unaffected as I am and could scare very easily, and that’s a threat to our democracy.”
Did you receive an email like the one described in this story? Let us know.
Isabelle Ross contributed reporting from Dillingham.