Deceptive Practices Through the Years:
In the past, tactics seeking to intimidate and suppress the votes of minorities came in the form of test and devices such as poll taxes and literacy tests. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and 24th amendment ended many of these suppressive devices but 45 years later too many Americans continue to be targets of deceptive practices and intimidation as they attempt to cast their ballots. Below are examples of such practices.
Deceptive tactics often take the form of flyers with false voting information. For example in 2004, minority neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin received flyers from a fictitious organization called the "Milwaukee Black Voters League," claiming that if you had already voted in any election that year that you could not vote and if you had even minor infractions, like parking tickets, you were disqualified from voting. Flyers like these are often printed on official-looking local government letterhead with the wrong election date or other misleading information. As another example, in 2008 flyers were distributed to voters in Virginia stating, "Due to larger than expected voter turnout in this year's electoral process," people supporting Republican candidates vote on November 4th (actual Election Day) and Democrats vote on the following day.
Robocalls Meant to Harass or Provide Misleading Information
Deceptive robocalls, or automated calls with incorrect information, has become a popular deceptive practice as well as a form of harassment to deter voters from going to the polls. In 2006, voters in New York, Virginia, Florida and New Mexico reported receiving harassing robocalls, sometimes in the middle of the night, claiming to be from one of the candidates running for office in the area when in fact those campaigns had not activated the calls.
This type of deceptive practice was recently the focus of a case in Maryland in which the campaign manager of a Republican candidate for Governor in 2010 approved calls to predominantly African-American Baltimore neighborhoods telling voters to relax, "Everything's fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight." This was a clear effort to suppress turnout in predominantly African-American precincts. Unfortunately, this case, with the arrest and eventual conviction of the political operative who authorized the robocalls, is quite rare.
Students are often the target of deceptive practices and dissuaded from voting in the states where they attend college or universities. In the past, students have been falsely told they could not vote using their college address and, if they did, their parents would not be able to claim them as dependents on their federal tax returns, would lose their financial aid, and could face criminal charges. In 2008, Drexel University students were targeted with flyers posted around campus warning them that undercover officers would be at polling locations ready to arrest students if they had any outstanding warrants or traffic violations in an effort to suppress their vote.
Using Technology and Social Media
Modern technology, particularly the internet and social networking tools, have been used to quickly and anonymously disseminate false information. Web-based deceptive practices are particularly dangerous because the targets of this information, believing it to be true, will often pass it along to their friends and family - making it viral. For example, emails in 2008 were sent to George Mason University students telling them that Election Day had been changed to November 5th from the university provost. The provost quickly sent an email to students telling his account had been hacked and the information was false.
In Walnut, Mississippi a pastor at a church posted false information on his Facebook page in 2011 stating, "I just heard a public service announcement. Because of amendment 26 [Life begins at the Moment of Fertilization Amendment] and the anticipation of a record turnout, the Secretary of State's office has had to devise a plan as to how to handle the record numbers. The Secretary of State's office just announced that if you are voting YES on MS26, then you are to vote on Tuesday Nov 8th. If you are voting NO on MS26, then they ask that you wait until Wednesday Nov 9th to cast your vote." There was no difference of voting dates and the pastor did nothing to correct this information, confusing voters.
These examples highlight the need to empower federal, state and local officials to punish violators, and quickly correct deceptive information through sources trusted by affected communities.