Text messages with misleading election info hit voters in 5 states

They directed voters to the wrong polling locations, but the company that sent them say it was done in error.

Voters cast their ballots in the Kansas primary in Merriam on Aug. 2.Kyle Rivas / Getty Images file

Voters in five states received text messages in recent days containing false information about how to vote, but the company that sent them says it was an error.

Courtesy Kansas Secretary of State's office

The secretaries of state in Kansas and New Jersey warned Monday that voters had been sent incorrect instructions about where to find their polling places. It wasn’t immediately clear how many people received the messages.

The messages appeared to have been personally tailored, with voters getting similar texts identifying names and addresses and purported polling locations, signed by a group called “Voting Futures.”

Movement Labs, a company that specializes in political text message campaigns encouraging progressives to vote, said late Monday that it was behind the texts and that it took “full responsibility for these mistakes and have issued correction texts.”

In a statement published to its website, it said that three campaigns that used its services — Voto Latino, Black Voters Matter and Voting Futures — had sent the texts to voters in Kansas, New Jersey, Illinois, North Carolina and Virginia.

"In some of our texts, we sent addresses and images of drop-box locations when we intended only to include in-person early vote locations," it said.

"We didn’t specify in our text that we were trying to encourage voters to vote early. Some voters familiar with their election day location thought we were telling them to vote on election day at an early vote location," the statement said.

Movement Labs was behind a similarly misleading text message campaign in Oregon in October.

At least one text message seen by NBC News that was sent in New Jersey on Sunday was followed Monday by another message: “We may have sent you a picture and address of a dropbox or early voting location, and that information might not have been correct.”

Both states recommended that voters visit their official elections websites for authoritative voting locations: vote.nj.gov for New Jersey and VoterView for Kansas. 

Obtained by NBC News

Experts have warned that text messages that mislead people about how to vote are a particularly tricky problem. It’s not difficult for a malicious sender to hide where a text message comes from, and the Federal Communications Commission loosened restrictions on political text messaging before the 2020 election.

Kansans were targeted with misleading text messages this year in relation to an abortion referendum.

Scott Goodstein, who built the text message operation for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and now warns of the dangers of political text messages, said it’s possible the texts are a mistake by a group that took phone numbers and matched them to outdated addresses. If the texts were an honest mistake by a group trying to help people vote, he said, the group did a poor job of it.

“Just because you can do a digital match to a phone number doesn’t mean you should,” he said. “Because it’s suppressing some voters when the information is wrong if every piece of the data isn’t verified.”