Mysterious ‘vote-shaming’ mailer investigated ahead of Northern California special election

Just days before a state Senate special election Tuesday, a mysterious letter threatening to publicly expose voters who don’t cast ballots has begun appearing in mailboxes across Northern California, prompting a state inquiry into whether election laws have been violated.

Residents from Fair Oaks and Folsom to Rescue and Rocklin and beyond say they have received a mailer revealing neighbors’ and strangers’ voting history, and threatening to reveal their own voting records after the June 4 Senate District 1 special election “so we can see how we did together.”

Republican Assemblymen Brian Dahle and Kevin Kiley are competing to fill the vacant seat representing much of Northern California’s eastern edge.

“I find it very dystopian,” Lora Warren said in a Facebook post Wednesday, sharing the letter she received from a group identifying itself as the Northern California State Voter Project.

It’s “kind of like vote shaming,” said Somnath Ganguly, a Folsom resident who received the mailer Wednesday along with his wife.

The Northern California State Voter Project does not have a website, phone number or public representatives, only a West Sacramento post office box number. The group is not listed as a campaign committee on the California Secretary of State website.

Kiley’s campaign had “nothing to do with” the mailer, said spokeswoman Emily Humpal.

Dahle’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

It’s unclear how many mailers were sent out across the region, but residents in Sacramento, Antelope, Folsom, Orangevale, El Dorado Hills, Rocklin, Redding, Rescue and Lincoln all received or were listed on mailers, according to social media postings.

Between 12 and 18 complaints about the mailers have been submitted to the Placer County elections office, said clerk-recorder-registrar of voters Ryan Ronco.

“We were just as outraged about it as the voters,” Ronco said. “We always shoot for 100 percent turnout ... but I don’t want 100 percent turnout if it’s because they feel threatened or if people haven’t done their homework.”

The El Dorado County registrar of voters has begun tracking complaints since it first received a report Wednesday night, said staffer Linda Hogge. Sacramento County’s registrar of voters has received two complaints related to the mailers, said spokeswoman Hang Nguyen.

Ronco said the mailer was the first of its kind in Placer County since he started working at the elections office 25 years ago, but “voter-shaming” mailers have cropped up in California races in the past.

A similar mailer was sent to Los Angeles residents in 2017 before citywide elections. Though the L.A.-based mailer was sent by a group called the California Voter Awareness Project, it includes similar language and phrasing to the one sent to District 1 residents, such as “DO YOUR CIVIC DUTY — VOTE.”

Voter history information is publicly available, as well as records related to party affiliation and polling location.

However, the California Secretary of State’s office is looking into whether the mailer violates state election law, said spokesman Sam Mahood.

Ronco suggested those afraid of being exposed for not having voted but unsure of whom to vote for can submit a blank ballot to be counted as having voted.

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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