Summary

  • Voter intimidation and misinformation campaigns have significantly increased in recent years.
  • Congress should pass a ban on deceptive practices and voter intimidation at the federal level.
  • States and local governments should have emergency procedures in place to immediately correct misinformation about elections.

In the crucial battleground states of Ohio and Wisconsin, 145 anonymous billboards noting that voter fraud is a felony punishable by up to 3.5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine popped up in predominately African America urban areas around Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Columbus two weeks before the 2012 election. The signs were designed with large white letters reading “VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY! Up to 3 ½ years & $10,000 Fine!” with a big picture of a judge’s gavel.1

The selective placement of these billboards belies any argument that they were merely intended to be informative. They are instead an example of voter intimidation meant to discourage potential voters of color through scare tactics. Recent elections have also seen a rise in coordinated incidents of phone calls targeting voters that misrepresent times and locations of voting, policies and endorsements of particular candidates,2 and flyers, mailer, and billboards that misinform, discourage, and intimidate targeted voters.

Deceptive practices are intentional disseminations of false or misleading information about the voting process in order to prevent an eligible voter from casting a ballot, such as providing misinformation about when and where to vote.3 Voter intimidation is the use of threats, coercion, harassment or other improper tactics to interfere with the free exercise of the right to vote.4 5 Voters of color are disproportionally targeted for misinformation and intimidation tactics.6 7 These tactics endanger the integrity of our elections and impede an individual’s fundament right to vote.8

On top of interfering with the fundamental freedom to vote, unwarranted challenges and voter intimidation tactics deplete resources and distract election administrators.9 They are toxic for elections and toxic for democracy.

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