Incidents Of Voter Intimidation & Suppression

(A) Charges Of Long Lines Orchestrated By Republicans To Suppress The Minority Vote

On June 2, 2005, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean charged that Republicans caused long lines at polling places on Election Day to suppress the minority vote. Dean stated:

“The Republicans are all about suppressing votes: two voting machines if you live in a black district, 10 voting machines if you live in a white district. … You know, the idea that you have to wait on line for eight hours to cast your ballot in Florida there’s something the matter with that. … Well, Republicans, I guess, can do that because a lot of them never made an honest living in their lives.” (7)

Dean was just the latest Democrat leader to make this charge. In January 2005, the Rev. Jesse Jackson charged that “blatant discrimination in the distribution of voting machines ensured long lines in inner-city and working-class precincts that favored John Kerry, while the exurban districts that favored President Bush had no similar problems.” (8) The Democrat staff of the House Judiciary Committee, led by Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), alleged in a January 2005 report that “the misallocation of voting machines [in Ohio] led to unprecedented lines that disenfranchised scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of predominantly minority and Democratic voters.” The Conyers report specifically cited Franklin County, Ohio, as an area in which Republicans intentionally misallocated voting machines in order to cause long lines and disenfranchise minority voters. (9)

However, Democrat election officials in Franklin County and the U.S. Department of Justice have refuted this allegation. During the recent U.S. House Administration Committee hearing held in Columbus, William Anthony, Chairman of the Franklin County Democratic Party and County Board of Elections, flatly rejected the allegation that long lines were part of some effort to disenfranchise minorities and/or Democrat voters. Anthony further testified that long lines were not limited to minority and Democrat communities. Anthony stated under oath:

“Some have alleged that precincts in predominantly African American or Democratic precincts were deliberately targeted for a reduction in voting machines, thus creating the only lines in the county. I can assure you Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, both as a leader in the black community and Chairman of the local Democratic Party and a labor leader and Chairman of the Board of Elections, that these accusations are simply not true.” (10)

Anthony stated that “on Election Day I spent several hours driving around the county in the rain and observed long lines in every part of our county, in urban and suburban neighborhoods, black and white communities, Democrat and Republican precincts.” He referred to those who made claims about long lines and disenfranchisement as “conspiracy theorists” and “Internet bloggers.” (11)

Anthony noted that the entire process for allocating voting machines in the county was controlled by a Democratic supervisor. (12) He cited three reasons for the long lines in Franklin County on Election Day 2004: increased voter turnout, static resources and an exceptionally long ballot. (13) Finally, Anthony was “personally offended” by these allegations. As he told The Columbus Dispatch, “I am a black man. Why would I sit there and disenfranchise voters in my own community? … I feel like they’re accusing me of suppressing the black vote. I’ve fought my whole life for people’s right to vote.” (14)

In July 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that its investigation of Franklin County found that the county “assigned voting machines in a non-discriminatory manner.” As to charges of racial disparities in voting machine allocation, the Justice Department found that “the allocation of voting machines actually favored black voters because more white voters were voting on each voting machine than black voters.” The Department reported that white precincts averaged 172 voters per machine, while black precincts averaged 159 voters per machine. Noting that elections in Franklin County – and everywhere in Ohio – are run by a six-member Board of Elections equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, the Department concluded that “long lines were attributable not to the allocation of machines, but to the lack of sufficient machines to serve a dramatically enlarged electorate under any allocation.” (15) (Exhibit B)

(B) State Rep. John Pappageorge’s Statement That Republicans Needed To “Suppress” The Detroit Vote
In the 2004 campaign, Democrats repeatedly cited a quote by 73-year-old Michigan state Rep. John Pappageorge as evidence of Republican plans to suppress the minority vote. In July 2004, Pappageorge was quoted by the Detroit Free Press as saying, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.” Detroit is 83 percent African American. (16)

When questioned about his statement, Pappageorge said the quote was misunderstood and then apologized to every Detroit legislator in the state House of Representatives. Pappageorge stated, “In the context that we were talking about, I said we’ve got to get the vote up in Oakland (County) and the vote down in Detroit. You get it down with a good message.” (17) Pappageorge immediately resigned from his position as a chairman of Michigan Veterans for Bush-Cheney. (18)

We have found no evidence of any plan by Pappageorge or others to suppress the minority vote in Detroit. In fact, minority voter participation in the presidential election in Michigan was up in 2004. (19) Voter turnout in Detroit increased in 2004 from 2000, and African American voters reportedly voted 95 percent for John Kerry. (20) Statements such as those by Pappageorge are highly inflammatory, even in the absence of any corresponding effort to suppress voter turnout. No political party, candidate or campaign should premise its success on a strategy of suppressing the participation of any class or group of voters, whatever that group of voters’ racial or demographic characteristics. Rather, the political process works best when the parties, candidates and their campaigns focus on delivering a message that encourages their support and seeks to persuade voters to support their position.

(C) Charges That Republicans Spread Misinformation On Date of Election And Polling Places
In the weeks leading up to Election Day 2004, there were scattered reports of misinformation being spread about where and when the vote would take place. In Ohio, there were reports of fliers being distributed that said Republicans were to vote on Tuesday (November 2) and Democrats on Wednesday (November 3). Callers to nursing homes reportedly told senior citizens that the elderly were not allowed to vote and other callers directed people to the wrong polling places in African American neighborhoods or said voters who owed back child support or had unpaid parking tickets would be arrested if they came to the polls. (21)

No paid Republican operative has been linked to these misinformation efforts. A review of such incidents linked to paid Democrat operatives appears in the next section of this report. While we found no evidence that GOP operatives were responsible for these heinous acts, both the Republican and Democrat parties and law enforcement should be fully committed to investigating and prosecuting all reported efforts to misinform voters, or any effort to intentionally misdirect a voter so the voter will be denied the opportunity to participate in the election. What follows is a review of incidents in which it was charged that Republicans misinformed Democrat voters in 2004.

News reports indicate that in Franklin County, Ohio, a bogus flier was distributed telling Democrats to vote on Wednesday, November 3, the day after Election Day. The flier falsely claimed to be from the Franklin County Board of Elections. Republican operatives were never linked its distribution, and the Chairman of the Franklin County Democratic Party “didn’t think it was a ploy by his Republican counterparts.” Election officials took action to counteract this false information. (22) Franklin County Elections Director Matthew Damschroder, a Republican, held a press conference to warn voters about the fraudulent flier and reemphasize that the election was indeed on November 2. The county Elections Board also mailed a post card to each of the more than 800,000 registered voters in the county informing them of their correct precinct and voting location at a cost of over $250,000 to the county. (23) These efforts by election officials to respond quickly to reports of voter misinformation are commendable and illustrate responsible action in response to this issue.

In Lake County, Ohio, some voters reportedly received letters on fake election board letterhead telling them that if they were registered by certain Democrat groups they would be unable to vote on Election Day. (24) The letter, headlined “Urgent Advisory,” said that no one registered by NAACP, America Coming Together (ACT), or the John Kerry and Capri Cafaro campaigns would be able to vote because the groups had registered voters illegally. (25) ACT spokesman Jess Goode charged that the letter was “proof positive that the Republicans are trying to steal the election in Ohio. They know they can’t win if all legitimate Ohio voters cast their ballots, so they’re kicking up a storm of voter intimidation and suppression.” (26) The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Lake County Sheriff Dan Dunlap was investigating the matter. We could find no evidence that any paid Republican operative was linked to these letters in Lake County.

In Milwaukee, a flier from the fictional group “Milwaukee Black Voters League” was reportedly distributed in African American neighborhoods inaccurately telling voters they were ineligible if they voted previously in the year or if they had been convicted of any offense, no matter how minor. (27) The flier also warned, “If you violate any of these laws, you can get ten years in prison and your children will get taken away from you.” (28) A spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican Party denounced the flier as “appalling,” and a Bush-Cheney ‘04 spokesman said the campaign would “not tolerate any effort to suppress or intimidate voters.” (29) We were unable to find any reports of Republican operatives linked to the Milwaukee fliers.

At least some of the misleading information on voting locations came from the Kerry campaign itself. On Election Day, The Columbus Dispatch reported that hundreds of Columbus voters received directions to the wrong polling places after Kerry campaign canvassers “mixed up the precincts in several Columbus neighborhoods.” While the Dispatch reported that the affected neighborhoods were “predominantly pro-Kerry,” some residents were extremely unhappy after receiving directions to the wrong polling place. Dawn M. McCombs, 37, “who complained to the Ohio Democratic Party about the error,” said “This just really makes me mad … It’s just stupid.” Columbus resident Yolanda Tolliver, who received one of the Kerry campaign fliers, was concerned about how the mistake might affect the area’s elderly and poor residents. “We have people who have to work, and people who don’t work at all. They’re used to being discouraged. What happens is when they get frustrated, they won’t vote at all,” Tolliver said. Franklin County Board of Elections Director Matthew Damschroder said that while he didn’t think the distribution of the incorrect poll information was “malicious,” it “could disenfranchise a voter.” (30)

(D) McAuliffe Letter Alleging RNC-Funded Disenfranchisement
On October 13, DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe sent a letter to RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie accusing Republicans of “systematic efforts to disenfranchise voters – to impose unlawful ID requirements in New Mexico, to throw eligible voters off the rolls in Clark County Nevada and to deprive voters of their rights to vote a provisional ballot in Ohio, among other examples.” The letter argued that while Republicans claimed to combat vote fraud, “it is actually the Republicans who are engaging in vote fraud in Nevada, Oregon and potentially other states.” McAuliffe cited the example of a voter registration organization paid by the RNC that was accused of “ripping up Democratic voter registration forms” in Nevada. (31)

McAuliffe’s reference to “ripping up Democrat voter registration forms” was a reference to the charges leveled by a former employee of the voter registration firm Sproul & Associates. These charges were, however, later found to be without merit. In October 2004, former Sproul & Associates employee Eric Russell claimed to have witnessed his supervisors tearing up Democrat registration forms. Russell, who admitted to being a disgruntled employee upset about not being paid for work he claimed to have done, said he witnessed his supervisor shred eight to ten Democratic registration forms from prospective voters. (32)

On the basis of these allegations, the Nevada Democratic Party sued the state of Nevada to reopen voter registration only in Clark County. A state court judge rejected the suit, saying that Democrats’ thin evidence of registration forms actually being destroyed did not justify reopening the registration process. (33)

In late October, Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller announced that a state investigation of Eric Russell’s claims against Sproul found “no evidence of an organized or concerted effort which would influence or impact the result of the elections in Clark County based on these allegations.” (34)

Allegations were also made that Sproul & Associates was registering Republicans exclusively and tearing up registration cards in Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. (35) While the Secretary of State and Attorney General launched investigations of Sproul’s activities in Oregon, there are no reports indicating any indictments or other legal actions taken against Sproul or its workers in these states. (36) The mere fact of these allegations and the other documented abuses of the voter registration process and incidents of voter registration fraud detailed in this report support reforming the process by which third-party groups participate in voter registration efforts and call for more accountability and oversight of third party voter registration efforts by election officials.

(E) Charges That Republicans Targeted Minority Precincts For Polling Place Challengers In Jefferson County, Kentucky
Prior to and since the 2003 elections, Democrats and their allies alleged that the Jefferson County, Kentucky, Republican Party’s placement of challengers in Democrat precincts was an attempt to suppress the African American vote by illegally targeting precincts in the county based on race. (37) Days before the 2003 gubernatorial election, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit accusing the county Republican Party of singling out minority Democrat precincts for intimidation through vote challengers. (38)

On November 4, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Thomas Wine denied the ACLU’s effort to ban GOP challengers from the polls and determined that their allegations of racial targeting were not supported by the evidence. Judge Wine found that Republicans placed challengers in county precincts without regard to any racial criteria. The judge ruled that the county Republican Party used a “racially neutral” method of placing challengers, choosing those precincts “with the highest percentage of registered Democratic voters vis-à-vis Republican.” Judge Wine noted that “speculation alone” by the ACLU and Democrats about the challengers’ placement was “not sufficient” to merit a restraining order. According to Judge Wine’s order, state law entitled Republicans to have challengers at the polls on Election Day and barred such challengers from disrupting the election process by “intimidating or harassing verbally” any voter, under penalty of being removed from the polling place. (39) (Exhibit C)

Despite the charge that Republicans were seeking to suppress the African American vote through their poll watcher program, the results of elections in 2003 and 2004 showed the opposite effect. In 2003, African American turnout actually increased in key county precincts targeted by Republicans for monitoring, and elections officials reported “no problems” with the Republican poll watchers. (40) President Bush actually lost Jefferson County by a larger margin in 2004 than he did in 2000. John Kerry won the county by 5,592 votes in 2004, while Al Gore won it in 2000 by 4,849 votes. (41)

(F) Ohio Challenger Allegations
In the weeks leading up to the 2004 election, the issue of partisan challengers at polling places in Ohio became a lightning rod for charges voter intimidation and suppression. Ohio law allows observers who have been properly registered and credentialed by boards of election to be present at polling locations to observe the conduct of election. The observers are supervised by election officials and have a narrowly defined role. Ohio law allows each party, as well as candidates and issue campaigns, to appoint these observers, denominated as “challengers” in the statutes. Both Republicans and Democrats applied to have thousands of challengers monitor the vote across Ohio on November 2. (42)

Republicans said they wanted challengers in polling places because of concerns about fraudulently registered voters in Ohio. (43) Democrats said they registered challengers only to watch the GOP observers, who they accused of trying to intimidate minority voters. The Rev. Jesse Jackson called the Republican challenger effort “Old South politics, a type of intimidation.” (44)

Democrats “filed lawsuits accusing the GOP of trying to suppress turnout and intimidate black voters” through their challenger program. One lawsuit, filed by civil rights activists Marian and Don Spencer, asked U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott of Cincinnati “for an emergency restraining order barring partisan challengers from polling stations” in Ohio on the grounds that such challengers would “intimidate black voters.” (45) Another lawsuit brought by Summit County Democrats asked U.S. District Judge John Adams of Akron to “to declare unconstitutional a decades-old Ohio law that allows challengers to sit in polling places and challenge voters.” (46) Both Judge Dlott and Judge Adams held that the Ohio statute providing for challengers was unconstitutional and barred challengers from the polls on Election Day. (47) Neither Dlott or Adams ruled that the Republican challengers were intended to suppress minority voter participation. During the hearing before Judge Dlott Republicans were questioned extensively about the Republican challengers and the evidence established that the determination of which polling places Republican challengers observed was made without regard to any racial characteristic of the precincts in which challengers participated.

However, early on the morning of Election Day, a three-judge panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overturned the lower courts’ rulings to allow challengers in Ohio polling places. The court ruled that the presence of Election Day challengers was allowed under state law, and that while registered voters should be able to cast ballots freely, there is also a “strong public interest in permitting legitimate statutory processes to operate to preclude voting by those who are not entitled to vote.” (48) The Plaintiffs appealed the 6th Circuit’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Associate Justice John Paul Stevens declined to hear the case, and thus refused to block the election challengers. Justice Stevens wrote that while the accusations leveled by the Plaintiffs were “undoubtedly serious” time was too short for the court to render a proper decision. Stevens also expressed faith in local election officials in declining to hear the case by writing, “I have faith that the elected officials and numerous election volunteers on the ground will carry out their responsibilities in a way that will enable qualified voters to cast their ballots.” (49)

Allegations that Republican challengers in the polls would “intimidate and suppress the black vote” in Ohio in 2004, were spectacularly unfounded. African American turnout was up in predominantly black precincts in Ohio. In Cleveland, “turnout was up nearly 22 percent [from 2000] and it went higher in some black wards.” In 2004, President Bush doubled his support from Ohio’s black voters from 2000. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Black voters may have given President Bush the edge in Ohio.” (50) The paper also reported that the “most feared delays of the election – from Republican challengers questioning the validity of voters at the polls – never materialized.” (51) According to the New York Times, “there were no reports that large numbers of voters were being challenged or denied a ballot [in Ohio].” (52)

On April 28, 2005, U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott issued an order denying a second motion for preliminary injunction against Republicans, holding that no voter’s due process rights are violated by Ohio’s polling place challenger rules. Judge Dlott ruled that there was no evidence to support giving the plaintiffs any relief on any of their claims. (53) (Exhibit D)

The plaintiffs in the case had claimed that the procedures established by the Republican Secretary of State would deprive properly registered voters of the opportunity to vote. They asserted that a voter whose qualifications to vote were challenged would be denied rights because they might fail to fully answer questions put to them by the precinct judges. According to Judge Dlott, the plaintiffs “failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits of claims and have not shown that any irreparable injury has resulted or will result from the [challenge] procedures.” Judge Dlott held that the plaintiffs “produced no evidence at the hearing that any eligible voter was wrongfully denied a ballot under [the Ohio challenger rules] in the November 2004 election or that such a voter would be denied a ballot in any future election.” Judge Dlott reasoned that “while the magnitude of the burden of having one’s properly registered right to vote revoked is great, there is no evidence that it has happened or will happen in May’s primary.” (54)

It has been noted that it is not difficult to convince the winner of an election that the result was proper and the election was fair and honest. The difficulty is to assure the losing candidate and party that the election was legitimate. Providing openness and transparency in the conduct of elections is an important means to assure that voters and the participants in the election (the candidates and political parties) – especially those who sought a different outcome - have confidence that the election has been conducted in a fair and honest manner and that the result is a legitimate expression of the will of the voters. The presence of observers in polling places deters attempts at vote fraud and also provides assurance that there was no misconduct by election officials. All political parties and candidates should have appropriate means to have observers in polling places. State law should allow a role for observers and should provide them a meaningful opportunity to monitor the conduct of the election without interfering with the lawful conduct of the election. As the Ohio and Kentucky litigation illustrate, the mere presence of observers in polling places also invites legal challenge that such a presence is in some manner discriminatory. The outcome of the Ohio and Kentucky litigation and the actual participation in the respective elections by minority voters suggests that claims of observers lawfully monitoring the conduct of the election does not deter participation by minority or other voters.

 

 
 
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