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North Dakota US House candidate files complaints over misleading text messages in primary election

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An attorney for the Republican primary winner for North Dakota’s only U.S. House seat has filed complaints with federal authorities regarding text messages that falsely stated she had dropped out of the heated GOP primary contest on the day of the June 11 election. Her attorney said the messages might be a test for a wider effort this fall.

Julie Fedorchak, a longtime public utilities regulator, was the subject of the messages. Attorney Shane Goettle said Tuesday he recently filed complaints on her campaign’s behalf with the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Communications Commission and alerted the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He alleged election interference and fraudulent use of texting to deceive voters.

The messages portrayed Fedorchak withdrawing by misrepresenting media headlines and an interview segment, Goettle said. Fedorchak did withdraw from a contentious endorsement process at the April convention, but she continued in the five-person race and won.

Thousands of North Dakotans throughout the state appeared to receive the misleading messages, Goettle said.

The nature of the North Dakota race — five candidates in a small-population state — might have presented a smaller market to beta-test the messages potentially before a larger effort, he said.

“I think whoever is behind this is probably testing it out in a primary election and could well use this as a tool to disrupt elections around the country if they succeed,” Goettle said.

He said the campaign has no specific information about who is behind the messages, but has made an effort to identify some phone numbers involved, all with North Dakota’s 701 area code.

He declined to share the complaints, saying the campaign doesn’t want to publicize names when it’s unclear whether those people or entities still own the numbers.

Fedorchak’s Republican opponents denied involvement. The state Democratic-NPL Party denounced the messages and similar ones urging Democrats to vote for former state Rep. Rick Becker, who ran in the GOP House primary.

The Associated Press