Written By: Charlene Plutte
Several factors can influence voter turnout negatively such as the unfortunate scheduling and high cost of voting or Voter ID laws. But one factor that is not mentioned regularly is the influence of voter intimidation on voter turnout especially in swing states. The main reason for this omission might be the fact that voter intimidation was officially ruled illegal in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It is stated in Section 11(b) that “No person … shall intimidate, threaten, or coerce … any person for voting or attempting to vote”. Yet there have been increasing reports of alleged voter intimidation within the last decade. This led to the repeated introduction of bills subsumed under the broad title Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act in the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively, between 2005 and 2012. These bills all had the intend to
“prohibit any person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, from knowingly deceiving any other person regarding: (1) the time, place, or manner of conducting any federal election; or (2) the qualifications for or restrictions on voter eligibility for any such election.”
H.R. 5815: Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2012 was assigned to a congressional committee on May 17, 2012, which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate as a whole. But despite this pending bill a group called True The Vote and their partner group Code Red have drawn national attention to themselves because they were accused of voter intimidation.
Both of these initiatives comb the registration records for the slightest misspelling of names or address error of voters and gather the information in a database to secure “free and fair elections” in favor of Mitt Romney. If the volunteers come across suspicious voter information they question the validity of that vote and more often than not lawfully since 39 states allow private citizens to challenge voters at the polls. Taking advantage of these state laws True The Vote campaigners where spotted in Outagamie County slowing down the democratic process as a result of which frustrated “students gave up and left”.
Another effect of the organization’s work could be seen in the Harris County district, True The Vote’s home in 2010. 400 to 500 voters were forced to provide additional information verifying their addresses to make their votes valid. This increased voting costs because they had to invest more time and arguably more money to cast their vote which can lead to a lower voter turnout. It can also to disappointment in and distrust of the election process. Ms. Sharp who was one of the voters whose vote was challenged through True The Vote was summoned to attend a hearing held by the Board of Elections. There she professed that she felt she was being harassed. And one of the reasons she could think of why it was happening to her specifically was the fact that she was black.
This comment brings up the issue of race, since another function the volunteers fulfill is that of poll observers—often in minority districts. This, according to Douglas Ray, the Harris County assistant attorney who represents the election registrar, lead to drastic effects on Houston’s voters in a 2010 district election: “The influx of white election observers in black neighborhoods caused friction with voters and poll workers, bringing back memories of a time when racial intimidation at the polls was commonplace in the South”. This certainly perpetuates allegations mentioned in Is this Any Way to Run a Democratic Election?, namely that “minority voters, especially those who live in low-income areas, are much more likely than others to be prevented from voting or to have their votes voided for not completing the ballot properly”.
The methodology which the group employs could disproportionately affect lower income families since it puts a constant stress on these potential voters. This is exactly True the Vote’s aim according to Bill Ouren, the initiative’s national elections coordinator, who told a group of about 50 recruits in Boca Raton that their job was to make sure that voters felt like they were “driving and seeing the police following”.
True the vote and Code Red evidently influence voter turnout. As long as their actions are legal they can be instrumentalized to insure additional voters for the Republican Party. It remains to be seen how much influence they will exercise over the turnout of the 2012 presidential election.
Sources / Supporting Links / Works Cited: : avalon.law.yale.edu. 2008. ” Voting Rights Act of 1965; August 6, 1965.” at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/, accessed on 24 September.
coderedusa.com. 2012. “Together We Can Restore America.” at www.coderedusa.com, accessed on 24 September.
economist.com. 2012. ” Voter fraud and its discontents: Restricting the franchise.” at www.economist.com, accessed on 24 September.
Mock, Brentin. 2012. ” How the Right’s Building a ‘Poll Watcher’ Network for November.” at http://colorlines.com, accessed on 24 September.
Saul, Stephanie. 2012. “Looking, Very Closely, for Voter Fraud: Conservative Groups Focus on Registration in Swing States.” New York Times. 16 September, accessed 24 September 2012.
Streb, Matthew J. 2011. Rethinking American Electoral Democracy. New York:Routledge.
truethevote.org. 2012. “About True The Vote.” at www.truethevote.org, accessed on 24 September.
Wayne, Stephen J. 2010. Is This Any Way to Run a Democratic Election?. Washington D.C. : CQ Press.