By: Madeline Rose
With the federal election date swiftly approaching pressure is on in the swing states, where groups are already trying to intervene in who shows up to the polls. Residents in Virginia and Florida have already reported anonymous phone calls telling them that they can vote over the phone this year: far from the truth. Letters with the forged signatures of local Florida officials have been sent out questioning the citizenship of the receivers, and targeted neighborhoods across the divided states have been papered with ridiculous fliers telling residents made up facts, like that some parties vote a day after November 6th. While invasive techniques are seen every election year, some particularly odious billboard signs have appeared in Wisconsin and Ohio, prompting an uproar and spurring activism on the part of those opposed.
The signs in question feature a large wooden gavel and loudly remind voters that voter fraud is a felony punishable by up to a 3 1/2 year sentence and $10,000 fine. Unlike the other methods of tampering with voter turnout, this content is true, but that’s not what critics are concerned about. The 145 or so billboards are concentrated in African American and Latino communities, as well as those populated by students: groups that typically vote Democratic (educationvotes.nea.org). Civil rights groups and Democrats are calling the billboards an attempt at voter suppression, and have demanded that the billboards be taken down. By looking at the billboards it would seem that voter fraud is a prevalent issue, but in reality the instances of true in-person voter fraud are few and far between. It’s assumed that the true intention of the intimidation is to bully specific groups into not voting come Election Day, the facts being so disconnected with reality.
It is difficult to pinpoint the actual agenda behind the group responsible for the billboards because both advertising companies have withheld the name. Both Wisconsin company Clear Channel and Ohioan company Norton Outdoor Advertising claimed to have signed contracts unintentionally swearing themselves to secrecy, but have described the presumably singular group as a private family foundation (npr.org). The Republican Party of Wisconsin released a statement to dissolve any suspicion of ties to the funding for the billboards, but to at the same time offer support to the billboards. Spokesman Nathan Conrad said that rather than seeing them as racist the party thinks that they are educational.
Standing up to defend voters, Election Protection- a coalition of civil rights, labor and progressive groups- have stepped up their efforts to guarantee that everyone votes in the upcoming election. In addition to manning a non-partisan voter hotline in Washington D.C., on October 18th the organization launched an ad campaign of their own. Their billboards shadow the offensive postings and instead encourage voter turnout and remind voters to stand up for their rights. Their efforts, on top of the public demands and petitions by fellow civil rights groups and state officials asking to get rid of the billboards did the job, as earlier this week Clear Channel began to take them down. Wednesday Norton Outdoor Advertising announced that they too would begin the removal process.