TOPEKA — Whoever used state voter registration data to send a false text message about the constitutional amendment on abortion didn’t violate state law, state officials say.
That’s because lying is allowed in election advertisements, and unsolicited text messages about ballot questions don’t require senders to reveal their identity.
But Twilio, the company whose services were used to send the message, says its fraud team is investigating and taking “appropriate actions” to stop the spread of misinformation.
Democrats were infuriated by the message they received Monday, which inaccurately told them “voting YES on the amendment will give women a choice.” A yes vote would actually end the right to terminate a pregnancy in Kansas and give the Legislature the authority to pass a total ban on abortion. A no vote would preserve the status quo, in which abortion is heavily regulated and legal through 22 weeks of gestation.
“This is as dirty as you can get,” said Davis Hammet, a voting rights advocate, in a tweet. “The anti-abortion coalition is sending out a last minute mass text to Kansas pro-choice voters blatantly lying about the abortion amendment so they vote the wrong way.”
Bryan Caskey, the state elections director, says the Secretary of State’s Office has fielded dozens of complaints about the text message but that the office doesn’t have the authority under Kansas law to investigate the matter.
Political operatives can purchase the voter registration file from the secretary of state’s office, a public record that includes names, party affiliation and contact information for voters. They can separately purchase a daily update of individuals who have cast advanced ballots.
State law prohibits the use of this information for commercial purposes, but campaigns can use it to encourage selective voters to go to the polls.
“The use of voter registration data for this type of communication is not something that we believe violates the law,” Caskey said.
The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, in a statement responding to complaints about the text, said state law doesn’t require text messages to say who paid for them if the messages are about a ballot question. Additionally, state law specifically allows misleading advertising for elections, the ethics commission said.
In a series of Twitter statements responding to complaints about the false information on the abortion amendment, Twilio said it is “working diligently to ensure this is handled correctly.”
“Spreading misinformation is a direct violation of our Terms of Service so although we don’t have an update to share, we assure you that we take misinformation very seriously,” the company said.