February 21, 2024

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The New Hampshire attorney general’s office says it is investigating what appears to be an “unlawful attempt” at voter suppression after NBC News reported on a robocall impersonating President Joe Biden that told recipients not to vote in Tuesday’s presidential primary.

“Although the voice in the robocall sounds like the voice of President Biden, this message appears to be artificially generated based on initial indications,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement. “These messages appear to be an unlawful attempt to disrupt the New Hampshire Presidential Primary Election and to suppress New Hampshire voters. New Hampshire voters should disregard the content of this message entirely.”

The investigation comes after a prominent New Hampshire Democrat, whose personal cellphone number showed up on the caller ID screens of those receiving the call, filed a complaint.

“What a bunch of malarkey,” the robocall phone message begins, echoing a favorite term Biden has uttered before.

The message says that “it’s important that you save your vote for the November election.”

“Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again. Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday,” it says.

The message concludes with a phone number belonging to Kathy Sullivan, a former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair who now runs a super PAC supporting the campaign to urge New Hampshire Democrats to write in Biden’s name in the primary. 

If you received this robocall or have more information on it, contact NBC News here.

Biden’s name does not appear on Tuesday’s ballot, a consequence of state elections officials’ setting the date of the primary before South Carolina’s on Feb. 3, the first sanctioned contest of the 2024 nominating race under new Democratic National Committee rules.

But local supporters launched the late write-in effort to both marshal support for Biden and send a message to the national party about New Hampshire’s coveted, centurylong tradition of holding the nation’s first primary.

In an interview, Sullivan said she began receiving calls Sunday evening from those who had received the message. A woman she spoke to told her that Biden had called her, though she said she was not a Biden supporter.

“I said, ‘You got a call from Joe Biden, and he gave you my number?’” Sullivan said she responded.

A volunteer for the write-in effort also received the call and recorded it, Sullivan said, and shared it with organizers of the Biden write-in campaign. One of the organizers then shared it with NBC News.

It’s not clear how many voters received the call or what types of voters were targeted. Lists of voters’ phone numbers can be readily purchased from data brokers.

And Sullivan said that while it is not clear who is behind the robocall, “it’s obviously somebody who wants to hurt Joe Biden.”

“I want them to be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible, because this is an attack on democracy,” said Sullivan, an attorney, who said she believes the call could violate several laws. “I’m not going to let it go. I want to know who’s paying for it. Who knew about it? Who benefits?”

She said she also plans to engage with federal law enforcement.

Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said that “the campaign is actively discussing additional actions to take immediately.”

Sullivan was party chair in 2002, when a so-called phone-jamming effort was carried out during a hotly contested U.S. Senate race. Two Republican officials, including the executive director of the state Republican Party and a Republican National Committee operative, were convicted of using computer-generated phone calls to disrupt Democrats’ get-out-the-vote call center operations.  

State officials are speaking out against the calls.

Secretary of State David Scanlan said the calls “reinforce a national concern about the effect of artificial intelligence on campaigns.”

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., said she hopes the attempt to dampen turnout for Biden will backfire.

“I urge Granite Staters to make sure their friends and neighbors know the truth and turn out in even bigger numbers to write in President Biden’s name,” she said.

The campaign of Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, who is challenging Biden for the nomination, said it was not aware of the calls but called them “wildly concerning.”

“Any effort to discourage voters is disgraceful and an unacceptable affront to democracy,” spokesperson Katie Dolan said. “The potential use of AI to manipulate voters is deeply disturbing.”

A spokesperson for Trump’s campaign denied any connection to the calls, saying, “Not us. We have nothing to do with it.”