Tomorrow is Election Day in the United States, and this year’s efforts to disfranchise voters have been unsettling in their coordination and innovation. Reports have surfaced across the nation of groups falsely alleging massive voter fraud. Some are even organizing surveillance teams to monitor polling places and even pursue buses of voters. The real reason for such shadowing is almost certainly to intimidate and deter voters.
Surveillance by Camera and Video
Organizers from the Tea Party and other groups in St. Paul, Minnesota, announced last week that they were offering a $500 reward to vigilantes for turning in people who are successfully prosecuted for voter fraud. The coalition is also organizing “surveillance squads” to photograph and videotape (read: intimidate) people trying to exercise their Constitutional right to vote. Tea Party organizers in Harris County, Texas, are using similar tactics even while conceding they violate local law. In Wake County, North Carolina, voters have complained that observers are “[standing] behind the registration table (where they're not allowed) and tak[ing] pictures of the license plates of voters using curbside voting (also not allowed).” Tea Party members have also begun challenging voter registration applications and announced plans to question individual voters at the polls whom they suspect of being ineligible.
Surveillance by Smartphone
An organization called the American Majority has developed a smartphone application for tracking incidents of so-called voter fraud. When a user launches the application, the phone’s GPS sends a report to a tracking database. Users are encouraged to use the phone’s camera, which the app automatically opens, to collect photographic evidence of the “fraud,” which is clearly an intimidating act and a violation of voters’ privacy.
Trickery to Dilute the Black Vote
In Harris County, Texas, a flyer is being circulated in black neighborhoods purporting to be from the black Democratic Trust of Texas. The flyer falsely claims that "when you vote straight ticket Democrat, it is actually voting for Republicans and your vote doesn't count" and that a vote for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White is a vote for the entire Democratic ticket. The flyer is clearly illegal and designed through trickery to deprive black voters of the right to vote.
Intimidation of Minority Voters
In Texas, a citizens group called the King Street Patriots has launched an initiative called True the Vote that has already come under fire for intimidating poll watching practices at early voting sites in predominately black and Latino precincts. Poll watchers are alleged to have followed voters after they checked in, hovered over voters as they cast ballots, looked over voters’ shoulders to see who they voted for, and provided misinformation about voting procedures.
Harassing Latino Voters
A group affiliated with the American Majority, Minnesota Majority, sued Minnesota officials in federal court last week for not allowing Minnesota Majority members to wear "I.D. me" buttons at the polls. The group has made unfounded charges that non citizens have been voting. Minnesota does not require ID at the polls with a couple of exceptions. Not to be outdone by Minnesota actions, last week a mass email sent in the name of Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio urged individuals to join an army of “VOTER FRAUD PREVENTION VOLUNTEERS to STOP ILLEGALS FROM STEALING THE ELECTION!” (capitalization theirs). Both tactics are clearly designed to motivate people to go out and harass minority voters.
In late September, a suspicious fire destroyed nearly all of Harris County’s 10,000 electronic voting machines. Harris County encompasses Houston, the third largest city in the nation. Open Society Foundations grantee Advancement Project is working to mitigate the situation and protect minority voters.
Every American has the right to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Any form of discrimination, intimidation or challenge to voters without adequate basis is illegal and improper. There is just too much at stake for people to be denied their right to choose their leaders.