Voters in Texas received a mysterious text message on Wednesday, one that purported to be from a campaign volunteer for Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who is running against Ted Cruz for Senate this fall.
“We are in search of volunteers to help transport undocumented immigrants to polling booths so that they will be able to vote,” read the message, which claimed to be from an O’Rourke volunteer named Patsy. “Would you be able to support this grassroots effort?”
Screenshots of the text messages circulated on Twitter on Wednesday. Mr. O’Rourke’s campaign confirmed that the messages were authentic, but a spokesman said they came from an “impostor.”
“That was not an approved message by the campaign,” said Chris Evans, a spokesman for Mr. O’Rourke. Mr. Evans added that the campaign was looking into how the unauthorized message was sent. The person who sent the text was “not a Beto volunteer,” Mr. Evans said.
It was not clear Wednesday night how many people received the text message from the O’Rourke campaign or who the “impostor” was.
If Mr. O’Rourke’s campaign were indeed helping undocumented immigrants vote, it would be a brazen violation of election law.
Mr. Cruz and other Republicans have criticized Mr. O’Rourke, who stands within spitting distance of Mr. Cruz in recent statewide polls, as being weak on immigration.
Text messages have been hailed as the breakout technology of the 2018 midterms. New peer-to-peer texting apps allow campaigns to send rapid-fire text messages to voters, personalized with details like the voter’s name and nearest polling place, without running afoul of anti-spam regulations that prohibit unsolicited bulk messages. Candidates including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democrat from New York, and Andrew Gillum, who won last month’s Florida Democtatic primary in the race for governor, have used peer-to-peer texting apps to drive voters to the polls.
Among mass-texters, Mr. O’Rourke has been particularly aggressive. The campaign has used Relay, an app developed by alumni of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, to contact millions of Texas voters with messages urging them to donate, attend local events and pledge their support on Election Day. Progressive groups have rallied behind his “texting team,” with guides and an instructional video to teach volunteers how to use Relay and Slack, a team messaging app used by the campaign. And the campaign has set a goal of texting all 3.5 million cellphones contained in a statewide voter records database.
If someone infiltrated Mr. O’Rourke’s texting team and sent messages to his supporters encouraging illegal voting, it would mark one of the first notable acts of political sabotage involving text messages. A call to the number that sent the suspicious messages returned an automated message from Relay, the texting app used by the O’Rourke campaign.
Mr. Cruz’s campaign said it was not aware of the message and denied any involvement.
But Mr. O’Rourke has run a robust texting operation, vast enough that it has even reached Mr. Cruz and his father, Rafael, on more than one occasion. Several members of Mr. Cruz’s staff, and some of their family members, have also received texts from the O’Rourke campaign.
The texts have even annoyed some of Mr. Cruz’s supporters at recent campaign events.
“I know, I know,” Mr. Cruz responded. “I’ve gotten three of them myself. My dad has gotten five. By the third one I was thinking, ‘maybe I should vote for him.’”
Mitchell Ferman contributed reporting from McAllen, Texas.