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Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010

The Campaign Against Voting

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Election Day is still a few weeks away, but the right-wing campaign to try to frighten African Americans and Latinos from casting their ballots has no intention of waiting until the last minute to start intimidating voters.

Since September, bizarre billboards began appearing in African-American and Latino neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

The most striking feature is the huge iron prison bars across the entire illustration. The tops of the billboards scream: “VOTER FRAUD is a FELONY!”

Behind the bars is a curious mix of people. The largest face appears to be that of a white woman. Coming out of her mouth is one of those comic strip balloons saying: “We Voted Illegally.”

Joining this despicable miscreant in her ignominious incarceration are an African-American man and, strangest of all, a small figure that appears to be an Asian child.

Are there no limits to the horrendous voting crimes committed by mixed-race families? They even let their adopted Chinese children vote.

Well, they will be put behind bars so fast it will make their multiracial heads spin. Their harsh punishment is spelled out in no uncertain terms: “3 YRS & $10,000 FINE.”

Anonymous Attack Ads

As is true of most vicious, fraudulent advertising this election season, we have no way of knowing who paid for the absurd billboards.

The conservative Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision unleashed a flood of anonymous attack ads funded by millionaires and billionaires without any requirement to disclose who is paying for their ugly political messages.

The freakish posters say only that they were funded by “a private family foundation.” But we do know in recent elections Republicans have attempted to create the illusion of widespread voter fraud, especially in minority communities.

This is ironic since the only recent example of a major political candidate being declared the winner of an election despite getting fewer votes than his opponent was the Supreme Court’s anointing of Republican George Bush as president over Al Gore in 2000.

Every time law enforcement examines the voluminous Republican claims of voter fraud, investigations determine actual fraud to be infinitesimal.

Most of the overblown accusations are either clerical errors by overwhelmed poll workers or incidents of the formerly incarcerated mistakenly believing they were being good citizens by voting. In Wisconsin, some ex-offenders are allowed to vote and others are not.

A bill that has been building support in recent Legislatures would restore the vote to all ex-offenders when they return to their communities. That not only would eliminate most voting violations in Wisconsin, but also would promote good citizenship.

It is the racial inequalities in the state’s criminal justice system Republicans are trying to exploit with their scary billboards and other misinformation campaigns.

When African Americans are only 6% of the Wisconsin population, but nearly 50% of the prison population, racial bias is obvious at every level of the criminal justice system—arrest, prosecution and conviction.

Latinos are victims of their own hate campaign from Republicans who advocate following the example of Arizona in requiring anyone with brown skin or a Spanish accent to carry citizenship papers at all times to prove they deserve to be treated as Americans.

When people of color feel—often accurately—the legal system is stacked against them, they can be particularly vulnerable to threats intended to frighten them from exercising their rights.
Peculiar billboards with grotesque pictures and screaming headlines are just one piece of the continuing campaign to suppress voting in minority communities.

If you happen to live in a neighborhood where you have frequent encounters with the police all your life, you may not be sure what actually could disqualify you from voting.

What if you are poor and you have a lot of unpaid parking tickets? (You can still vote.) What if you have been convicted of a misdemeanor? (You can still vote.) What if you have been convicted of a felony, but are no longer on probation or parole? (You can still vote.)

For years, anonymous fliers have been distributed in African-American and Latino neighborhoods warning people that they can be prosecuted for voting if they have any of the problems listed above.

Frequently, these fraudulent notices claim police officers will be posted at the polls to see if anyone attempting to vote has any outstanding warrants or unpaid tickets. You can be arrested on the spot, they say. (No, you can’t.)

Sometimes, the cruel threat is tossed in that women voting illegally risk losing custody of their children.

This is the modern, psychological version of the murders and lynchings that once were used to try to frighten people of color from voting. Brave men and women stood up to those horrors and won their voting rights.

Those sleazy billboards should make everyone they’re trying to intimidate more determined than ever to vote on Nov. 2.