COLUMBUS, OH – Voting rights, civil rights and labor organizations are joining forces to erect get-out-and-vote billboards in four Ohio and Wisconsin cities this week, pushing back against an anonymously-financed billboard campaign aimed at intimidating voters and depressing voter turnout.
One of the red, white and blue messages from the Election Protection coalition will urge residents to “Stand Up and Have Your Say – VOTE.” A second set of billboards will remind voters that “When We Vote, We Are All Equal.” The billboards also will include the coalition’s voter hotline number, 1-866-OUR-VOTE, which provides voter information and answers to questions on voter registration and ID requirements and election procedures. The coalition will also have field programs on Election Day at polling places across the country.
“We want voters to know that we have their backs,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “We expect the ballot bullies who are trying to scare folks away from the polls will step up their efforts as Election Day approaches; we’re determined to make sure people aren’t intimidated and that every eligible citizen can exercise their right to vote.”
The first billboards in the Election Protection campaign were activated today in Milwaukee and Cleveland. Coalition leaders said traditional printed billboards will follow next week in those cities, along with Columbus and Cincinnati and that they expect the campaign to expand between now and Election Day.
About three dozen of the coalition billboards will be placed initially in the same predominately Latino and African-American neighborhoods where a series of menacing billboards, warning of prison terms and hefty fines for anyone engaged in voter fraud, went up last week. Clear Channel, the owner of the billboards, says those messages were financed by a “family foundation” that insists on remaining anonymous.
“The best way to stand up to this despicable form of voter intimidation is for the communities affected to turn out and vote in large numbers,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The Lawyers’ Committee and our partners put these billboards up to let voters know that they are free to vote without fear and we have their backs if they have any questions or problems.”
"Like all the other efforts to make voting harder for people this election cycle, these intimidating billboards are not about the integrity of an election, but all about keeping certain communities away from the ballot box," said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair. "People can see this for what it is. One thing is certain; no one should allow election bullies to take away their vote."
“The right to vote, and have your vote counted, is such a basic premise of democracy that it’s taken for granted by many,” said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. “But we know there are nefarious forces at work trying to roll back hard won rights that people died to gain. We’re very proud to partner with the Lawyers’ Committee to remind and reassure voters that their vote counts and that help with challenges to their right to vote is only a telephone call away.”
The Election Protection billboard campaign, which has an initial budget of $35,000, is being underwritten by Common Cause, the National Education Association, the Advancement Project, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the United Steelworkers International Union and The Leadership Conference on Civil, Human Rights and Demos.
“The Steelworkers are proud to stand with national civil rights groups to ensure every voter knows their rights before going to the polls, and no one is intimidated or discouraged by false information,” said Fred Redmond, the union’s vice president for human affairs.
"We are fighting to ensure that elections are free, fair and accessible," said Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Demos. "The freedom to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, and the billboards we are sponsoring will spread the message that the right to vote will be protected in this election."
“No American should be intimidated or denied the opportunity to exercise their right to vote,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Voting is the right and responsibility of every American. We stand with voters in these communities as they proudly exercise their right to vote and to participate in our democracy.”