With 10 days left in the election cycle, the race is still too close to call and a victor probably won’t be announced until voters have started their early morning routine on Nov 7th. Romney leads in the Real Clear Politics aggregate of polls by 0.9 points. Rasmussen has Romney leading 50% to 46%. The latest national poll conducted by the Associated Press/GFK has Romney favored by 47% of likely voters to 45% favoring Obama.
In the battleground states, Wisconsin is growing in importance and some feel it could be as important as Ohio. Real Clear Politics has Obama leading in Wisconsin by 2.3 points and that includes the latest Rasmussen poll which has Obama and Romney tied at 49% and the NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll which has Obama leading 51% to Romney’s 45%. Fox News said the latest polls in Wisconsin are leaning towards Obama.
In Ohio and Wisconsin it is all about getting the vote out. Voter turnout will decide the two swing states and as Ohio and Wisconsin go, so goes the election, so say many political analysts. Because of the importance of voter turnout in Wisconsin and Ohio, voter rights advocates have kept a keen eye on the voter suppression efforts in the Republican led states which were on the rise and are counterproductive to the goal of increasing the vote.
Voter rights advocates have been vigilant in the effort to increase voter turnout and combat Republican-led voter suppression efforts throughout the country, but most intensely by Republicans in swing states. This year, every Republican effort to discourage voter turnout has been set back by vigilant voter rights advocates. In the latest episode, voter rights advocates have thwarted Republican-led efforts to circulate erroneous election material, spread misinformation and intimidate voters in minority communities.
In Phoenix, Arizona, ABC News 15 reported that The Maricopa County Elections Department mistakenly listed the wrong date of the upcoming general election on voter registration cards. Innocuous enough until it was revealed that only the Spanish language version of the cards had the wrong date. Maricopa County is home to “birther” Joe Arpaio, one of the central figures in the controversial “show me your papers” immigration law Arizona SB 1070 that was largely overturned this year by the Supreme Court. The Phoenix New Times reported that in addition to the counter top cards, with the ironic title, “Important Election Date”, the Republican-led County also issued bookmarks that contained the incorrect election date in the Spanish language version while the English language version had the correct date.
In Ohio, a mailer was sent out and this time it not only listed the wrong Election Day but it also listed the wrong polling place. On each of the three separate occasions the misinformation on the elections, was printed only in the Spanish language material and distributed primarily in Latino-American communities.
Misinformation targeting likely Democratic voters was evident in Pennsylvania as well. Despite the ruling of the courts, billboards still stood stating that photo ID was a requirement for this year’s election and robocalls to elderly voters reiterated the false message that a photo id would be required for this year’s election. Philly.com reported that 10 billboard ads were placed in Spanish-speaking communities last week. The ads, featuring a woman holding up her driver’s license said, "Esta jornada electoral si la tienes muestrala” which means: "This Election Day, if you have it, show it." Juan Ramos, a former Philadelphia City Council member and head of the Delaware Valley Voter Registration Education Project, said some radio stations were airing ads stating that voters needed a photo ID before they could cast their ballots. The Nation reported that the ACLU had filed a petition stating “that thousands of seniors received a mailing from the state’s Department of Aging that included a card saying, “Voters are required to show photo ID on Election Day” and the state Department of Transportation centers, which administer voting-only IDs, still had up outdated posters telling people that they needed ID as recently as October 11.”
Misinformation is not uncommon in elections and clerical errors have been known to happen. However, one mistake is acceptable. A second mistake is maybe coincidental. And a third mistake that compounds the error with additional erroneous information is a pattern. Given the Republican states cookie-cutter approach to governance largely dictated by model rules created by A.L.E.C., common funding by national Super PACs such as Americans for Prosperity, and American Crossroads and common targets being likely Democratic voters it is highly possible that this was a coordinated effort to disenfranchise Spanish-speaking voters in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
When there are frequent election law changes and when this may be the most racially polarized presidential race in history, it behooves election officials to get the information right and remove any hint of impropriety.
Voter rights proponents were successful in having the Clear Channel voter fraud billboards that blanketed minority and poor communities in Wisconsin taken down. The billboards which were paid for by an anonymous “private family foundation” stated that “voting fraud is a felony” and were placed only in minority communities to discourage and intimidate minority voters. Stephen Brill, author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight To Fix America’s Schools, wrote in an op-ed for Reuters, “Based on the neighborhoods where they were placed and the fact that they simply announce a law that has been on the books for years it seems clear they’re meant to intimidate voters likely to support Democrats.”
As with the erroneous mailers, pamphlets and bookmarks, the billboards had been placed in minority communities in other swing states, most notably Ohio. In all 140 billboards placed in minority and poor communities in swing states were finally taken down after thirty days of fierce lobbying by voter rights advocates.
More than 85 billboards had been erected in minority communities in Milwaukee. Mike Wilder with the African-American Civic Engagement Roundtable told WTDY, a Wisconsin radio station “The billboards are strategically placed not only in African-American communities but in Hispanic communities and in communities that target college students.”
Voting rights advocates questioned the placement of the billboards exclusively in minority communities and approached Clear Channel arguing that the billboards did not identify the source of the political ads. After initially refusing to take down the billboards, Clear Channel said that the billboards did not comply with their policy to not accept anonymous political ads. US News and Report quoted Jim Culinan, vice president of corporate communications for Clear Channel Outdoor, “These billboards violate our policy of not accepting anonymous political ads, we asked the client to work with us to bring the boards into conformance with our policy. The client thought the best solution was to take the boards down.”
When given the choice of publicly standing firm behind its supposed effort on the side of truth, justice and voter integrity, the anonymous private family foundation chose to remain anonymous, folded its tent and said “never mind.”
In Cleveland, more than 30 billboards had been in place for over a month. And the billboards had also been placed in the black neighborhoods in Columbus. The billboards came on the heels of Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted’s continuing efforts to ignore the court order to restore early voting hours. ThinkProgress reported, “husted openly defied the first court order blocking the Republican restrictions on early voting, although he eventually backed down after a federal judge ordered him to appear in court personally to explain himself.” Even after being called on the carpet by the court Husted still went ahead and reduced early voting hours in the most populous counties in Ohio, including Democratic stronghold Cuyahoga County.
In 2008, Democrats effectively used early voting to raise voter turnout among voters that needed more flexibility to take the time to vote and early voting helped to win the state for Obama. However, this year early voting is being used strategically by both parties, so it seems counter intuitive that the Republican led state would continue to restrict voter access, until you realize that the counties that have heavily Democratic bases have seen the greatest reduction in voting hours. Early voting will have even more strategic value in future elections, particularly once pollsters learn how to capture and incorporate the information into their never-ending reports. The Miami Herald said voters are waiting in line for up three hours in some locations. The Las Vegas Sun said 25% of Nevada voters have cast their votes in the first six days of voting. If anything Husted should be increasing voting hours not curtailing them.
Norton Outdoors also agreed to take down as much as thirty anonymously funded billboards placed in predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods in Cincinnati. Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of ColorOfChange said “We are pleased that Norton Outdoor has decided to pull these voter suppression billboard. It was too much of a coincidence for these ads to just pop up in swing states, particularly in neighborhoods of color.”
Wisconsin has ten Electoral College votes, but more importantly it is representative of the stark differences in the role of government between Obama and Romney. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker survived a recall effort earlier this year primarily due to large voter turnout by Republicans and large cash infusions supporting his campaign by Republican backed Super PACs. The battle centered on Walker’s attack on collective bargaining and his attempt to break the unions. The controversial Republican sponsored and approved Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill that effectively eliminated collective bargaining for most of the state's public employees was declared unconstitutional by a state judge, setting up an appeal that could end up in the Supreme Court.
Fox News said, “Both parties expect a strong voter turnout.” Republicans expect to leverage native sons vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman and former Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus to go after blue collar Democrats. While the Obama campaign is counting on its grassroots efforts and the residual motivation of the Democratic base to get out the Democratic vote and send a strong message to Walker and the union-busting Republicans.
Obama has history on his side, as Wisconsin has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984.
Clear Channel announced that they donated space for 10 billboards around the Cleveland area that read "Voting Is a Right. Not a Crime!" Opposingviews.com reported “The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under the Law has also paid for 36 billboards that went up Thursday in Cleveland and Milwaukee that read "Stand up and have your say -- Vote. When we vote, we are all equal."