With widespread predictions of a close national election, an unprecedented wave of new voter registration and new voting systems in place, the potential for problems is high. These can come from poorly trained poll workers, confused voters, and improper actions by some state and local election officials. On top of all that, unscrupulous political operatives are looking for any advantage that will help them win, including voter suppression and intimidation efforts.
This is nothing new. In virtually every election, voters — particularly African Americans and other minorities — have faced calculated and determined efforts to keep them out. While poll taxes, literacy tests and the physical violence of the Jim Crow era have disappeared, more subtle, cynical and creative tactics have taken their place.
In fact, the scope of efforts to limit voting in minority communities during the past two decades is startling.
“Ballot security” or “voter integrity” initiatives targeting minority communities are just one often-used method of intimidating voters. At least three times, these initiatives have been successfully challenged in federal courts as illegal attempts to suppress voter participation.
Other methods include distributing flyers and other information containing false information about where, when and how to vote. There have even been recent incidents of operatives challenging individual voters at the polls by using armed private guards, off-duty law enforcement officers, and fake poll monitors.
Robbing citizens of their votes undermines the very foundations of our democratic society. Politicians, political strategists, and party officials who may consider voter intimidation and suppression efforts as part of their tactical arsenal should be exposed and prosecuted. State and federal officials, including Justice Department and national political party officials of both parties, should publicly repudiate such tactics and make clear that those who engage in them will face severe punishment.
In a nation where children are taught in grade school that every citizen has the right to vote, it would be comforting to think that the last vestiges of voter intimidation, oppression and suppression have been swept away. It would be good to know that voters are no longer wrongly turned away from the polls, never knowingly misdirected, misinformed, deceived or threatened.
Unfortunately, it would be a grave mistake to believe it.
To report incidents of voter suppression or intimidation, or to get help with other kinds of problems on Election Day, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE for assistance.
Ralph G. Neas is president of People For the American Way, www.pfaw.org. This article was distributed by MinutemanMedia.org.