Gerry Cohen had already voted, dropping off his state-issued ballot at his local post office, by the time the unsolicited mail ballot applications started showing up at his house in early September. The first one or two didn’t bother him. Cohen knows elections: He teaches election law at Duke University and is a Democratic member of the Board of Elections in Wake County, North Carolina. Sending applications directly to voters is “a good public service,” he said.
But Cohen has received at least seven unsolicited mail ballot applications since he voted — not from the state or county, but from the same get-out-the-vote group. “It’s extremely disruptive and reaches the level of a disinformation campaign,” Cohen said. “I think seven is malicious.”
The applications were from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Voter Information, which, along with its sister organization, the Voter Participation Center, is conducting a massive campaign to register voters and promote mail-in voting. The nonprofits aim to send 340 million pieces of mail this election cycle, with a focus on two dozen key states. The groups describe themselves as nonpartisan, but they were founded by a former Democratic operative, and the organization has spent at least $47,142 this cycle to promote former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential bid and $40,065 supporting other Democrats, according to public filings.
Election officials say CVI has made a host of mistakes that have buried their offices in unnecessary paperwork and swamped them with calls from voters. Mailers from groups like CVI, which can be mistaken for official documents sent by state or local governments, are confusing voters at a time when states are racing to expand voting by mail during a pandemic, according to election officials from both parties. President Donald Trump has stoked fears of voter fraud by citing CVI’s activities.
As states ramp up mail-in voting, CVI and other direct-mail groups across the country are causing friction by tackling responsibilities that traditionally belong to the government: the sending of ballot applications and other election-related materials. Alabama’s secretary of state warned residents in early October against using unofficial voter registration forms from a group called Election Mail Service, a project of a Texas public benefit corporation called Civitech. Ohio and North Carolina officials have also put out public statements about unsolicited registration forms from Civitech, some of which were prefilled with incorrect names, addresses and other personal information.