Two Weeks Before Election, Signs of Voter Intimidation Are on Display

FILE - In this June 19, 2012 file photo, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann holds a postcard to help identify vo
FILE - In this June 19, 2012 file photo, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann holds a postcard to help identify voters in need of a free state government issued card that will be issued through his office at no charge, in Jackson, Miss. More than two dozen states have some form of ID requirement, and 11 of those passed new rules over the past two years largely at the urging of Republicans who say they want to prevent fraud. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Having failed in many cases to block legitimate voting through legislation, anonymous conservatives are turning to intimidation.

NPR reports that in the last two weeks, "dozens of anonymous billboards have popped up in urban areas in the crucial battleground states of Ohio and Wisconsin." In white, all-caps lettering against a black backdrop, these warn that "VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY," punishable by three-and-a-half years in prison. Even though Clear Channel Communications agreed to take down the signs after their sponsor declined to be identified, Reuters reports, they are, I suspect, only the first sign of what could prove a truly nasty election night -- one that could be decided purely on the basis of turnout.

Allegations of voter fraud has been an issue pounded incessantly by the GOP over the last few years. The only problem is that such fraud is largely a myth, reports One Department of Justice study, outlined during a (Bush-era) congressional hearing in 2006, found that, out of the 197 million people who cast votes for federal candidates between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters were indicted for voter fraud, ABC news reports. That is well under one allegedly fraudulent vote cast out of every four million ballots.

In other words, the problem is sort of akin to the risk of being struck by lightning. Yet Republican-controlled legislators this year tried to disenfranchise millions of predominantly young, minority and poor Americans through legislation that varied from requiring picture voter ID cards to restricting early voting, NYU's Brennan Center for Justice reported in the spring.

Some of these laws have been thrown out or delayed by the courts. Others remain on the books. But the courts aren't keeping some conservatives from continuing their assault on voting.

Before Clear Channel decided to back pedal, NPR reported that 145 of the ominous billboards owned by a branch of the radio giant had appeared in three cities alone -- Milwaukee, Wisc., Columbus, Ohio, and Cleveland, Ohio -- many in predominantly minority or college-student neighborhoods. The Texas-based company is known for backing conservative causes. During the early days of the Iraq War, for example, it reportedly organized pro-war rallies featuring conservative talk show host Glenn Beck.

Given the razor-thin margin between the presidential candidates -- and all the activity this year to disenfranchise voters who tend to cast their ballot for Democrats -- it's not surprising that lawyers from the two political parties won't be the only ones monitoring balloting closely on election night.

In a twist on a role the United States has played in countries around the word, it turns out 44 United Nations-sanctioned monitors will be deployed around the United States to look for voter intimidation and other irregularities on election night, The Hill reports.

Why? Writes the Hill: "The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP and the ACLU, among other groups, warned this month in a letter ... of a coordinated political effort to disenfranchise millions of Americans -- particularly traditionally disenfranchised groups like minorities."

This request did not make Republicans happy, the Hill reports. But if the election stays as close as polls suggest, issues of voter intimidation, rather than voter fraud, could yet emerge as a significant factor come election night.