As Election Nears, Cries of Voter Intimidation
Similar calls have been reported in Virginia, a major battleground state where polls show Romney and Mr. Obama essentially tied. Earlier this month, the state board of elections received 10 complaints within a few hours from voters who said they'd gotten phone calls from unidentified individuals informing them of the phone-voting scam. Nikki Sheridan, a spokesperson for Virginia's board of elections, said the calls were made by live individuals and appeared to target older voters (The callers hung up when asked who was responsible and/or paying for the call). And while she said it's impossible to know how many Virginians received similar communications, the fact that 10 people leveled complaints within the space of such a limited time frame led election officials to believe the number was statistically significant.
Since the Virginia board of elections released a "rumor-buster" press release alerting voters of the scam, however, the calls appear to have stopped. Sheridan said that the board of elections had not received any further complaints as of October 12, the day the calls were first reported and the so-called rumor-buster went out.
Overt campaigns aimed at confusing or dissuading voters aren't the only examples being cited as attempts at suppression this fall: Voting rights activists have targeted a number of billboards in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania as allegedly attempting to discourage minority and low-income voters from going to the polls next Tuesday.
The advertising company Clear Channel Outdoor is currently in the process of moving 145 billboards in Cleveland, Columbus and Milwaukee that advertised the consequences of voter fraud, as is Norton Outdoor Advertising, which was as of Friday in the process of removing 31 displays in the Cincinnati market.
"[If voters in] communities of color get the idea that there may be trouble at the polls, some voters might say, 'Well, I don't want to do anything wrong, and because I'm not as familiar with the system I may do something by mistake. I don't want to do something by mistake and end up in jail,'" said Rudy Lopez, of the advocacy group Campaign for Community Change, which aims to increase the profile of policy issues that matter to low-income people and people of color. "I think this is a direct response to the involvement and the energy that we're seeing in communities of color. People in those communities do see a need to come out and vote, and I think others understand that that vote could make a difference and be a game-changer in some instances."
"I don't think it's a coincidence that now, in 2012, we're seeing a huge increase in laws that are trying to limit voting rights," he added.
Jim Cullinan, the spokesman of Clear Channel Outdoor, said the company reviewed the billboards in light of complaints, which it rented out to an unnamed client, and subsequently "asked the client how they would prefer to work with us to bring the boards into conformance with our policy," since the company's policy does not accept anonymous political ads. "The client thought the best solution was to take the boards down, so we are in the process of removing them," he said.