New York National Robocall Voter Intimidation Challenge
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation v. Wohl
Lawsuit brought by the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and several voters against right-wing conspiracy theorists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman (who both pled guilty to telecommunications fraud in Ohio and are facing felony charges in Michigan as of November 2022), Burkman’s lobbying firm and Project 1599 (a right-wing political organization founded by Burkman and Wohl) alleging that the defendants “engaged in a disinformation campaign by bombarding lawfully registered voters with robocalls containing blatant lies about mail-in voting in order to intimidate those voters into not exercising their right to vote in the November 3, 2020 election.” The robocalls allegedly targeted Black voters in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania, but this action was filed in New York federal court. The plaintiffs allege that these actions violate Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which prohibits voter intimidation, and the Ku Klux Klan Act. The plaintiffs allege that the robocall scheme created by the defendants targeted Black voters and used intimidation to “deprive them of their right to vote.” The plaintiffs request that the court declare the defendants actions in violation of Section 11(b) of the VRA and the Ku Klux Klan Act, grant the plaintiffs compensatory and punitive damages and prevent the defendants from engaging in these activities again.
In October 2020, a federal court granted the plainitffs’ request for a temporary restraining order that temporarily barred the defendants “from engaging in, or causing anyone else to engage in robocalls or similar forms of communications.” This order also required the defendants to notify those who received a robocall with a specific message: “‘At the direction of a United States district court, this call is intended to inform you that a federal court has found that the message you previously received regarding mail-in voting from Project 1599, a political organization founded by Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, contained false information that has had the effect of intimidating voters, and thus interfering with the upcoming presidential election, in violation of federal voting-rights laws.”’ In May 2021, the New York attorney general’s office intervened in the case alleging that 5,500 New Yorkers were targeted through the robocalls and requesting $2.75 million in penalties and profit forfeiture. In July 2022, the plaintiffs and New York attorney general filed a motion for summary judgment. In August 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice submitted a statement of interest in the case arguing that Section 11(b) of the VRA “broadly prohibits non-violent intimidation, threats, and coercion.” On March 8, 2023, the court ruled that the defendants’ conduct violated Section 11(b) of the VRA, the Ku Klux Klan Act, the Civil Rights Act and New York Civil Rights law.