NPR confirms a story that’s been on the blogs since earlier this week, efforts by a pro-Clinton group to disenfranchise black voters.

Thousands of North Carolina residents answered their telephones last week to hear this message, delivered in a deep, soothing voice:

“Hello. This is Lamont Williams. In the next few days, you will receive a voter registration packet in the mail. All you need to do is fill it out, sign it, date and return the application. Then you will be able to vote and make your voice heard. Please return your registration form when it arrives. Thank you.”

In fact, the deadline to register for the May 6 Democratic presidential primary had already passed. The robocall went to many registered voters who were expecting to vote that day. The call and follow-up mailings left many wondering whether they were registered for the primary or not.

This sounds like a classic example of voter suppression — sowing confusion in order to drive down turn-out. The calls seemed to be aimed at African-American communities, places where Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is expected to run well ahead of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

But the group behind the calls isn’t partisan Republican or ideologically conservative. It’s Women’s Voices Women Vote, a 501(c)(3) charity that states its mission as registering single women to vote. The robocalls seem completely at odds with the group’s usual, upbeat message. In one of the group’s public service announcements, the actress Julia Louis Dreyfus strolls thru a replica of the Oval Office and fantasizes about women electing a woman president.

The group has ties to some high level Clinton folks.

Will Evans of the Center for Investigative Reporting , who collaborated in reporting this story, found some Obama backers among the Women’s Voices leadership, but the group mostly has ties to Clinton and her campaign. Gardner worked on former President Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. Board member John Podesta was President Clinton’s chief-of-staff. Maggie Williams, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, used to be on the Women’s Voices leadership team and did consulting work for the group.

Chris Kromm, director of the Institute for Southern Studies, in Durham, N.C., says there’s no hard evidence that the robocalls were meant to suppress the pro-Obama vote. “We can’t show that there’s any formal or direct connection,” he says.

NPR is reporting that there’s “no evidence” these calls were aimed at disenfranchising Obama voters. That’s not quite accurate. There’s no admission of guilt or damning memo, but if the calls were directed at black folks, as NPR asserts, a block that has been voting 9 out of 10 for Obama in the primaries, the robocalls could only hurt him and help Hillary. Given the scale and persistence of the operation, it’s hard to believe the Clintons had no idea what was happening.

You don’t accidentally commission a bunch of robocalls using time tested voter suppression technique targeted at a particular group.

Moreover, they’ve been doing this for a while.

The Institute turned up other complaints about the group as well, in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. A “Lamont Williams” robocall similar to North Carolina’s ran in Ohio last fall. In Virginia, robocalls days before the February primary caused voters to flood the board of elections with phone calls, in turn triggering an investigation by the state police.

Kromm says this shows at least five months of a “deceptive tactic, illegal in many states.” He notes, “Each time this group is criticized for this activity, they apologize for the confusion.”

They’re obviously trying to help someone out. Of course, disenfranchising black voters isn’t what I’d call racist. It’s just trying to trick people out of exercising their constitutional right to vote because they’re of a certain race, which is completely different.

H/T Davidkc

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