Voter suppression tactics in full force as Election Day nears

Cyril Josh Barker | 9/17/2020, midnight
The general election is less than two months away and reports of voter suppression tactics being used to prevent certain ...
Polling station voters sign Nia Sanders

The general election is less than two months away and reports of voter suppression tactics being used to prevent certain groups from casting their ballots are in full swing.

From misleading robocalls over mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania to tacking on a so-called “poll tax” on ex-felons in Florida and even digital suppression, it’s no secret voting rights are under attack during the 2020 election meant to work in President Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s favor.

In New Jersey, Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson introduced legislation this week aimed to protect voters from intimidation through the use of “poll watchers” and law enforcement officers stationed at New Jersey polling sites.

Trump expressed during a recent interview his intention to deploy sheriffs, law enforcement officers and U.S. attorneys to polling sites around the country.

“We are in unprecedented times in this nation,” said Reynolds-Jackson. “A voter’s right to cast their ballot in person may very well be jeopardized as made clear in the commentary by the president. Voter intimidation tactics and suppression has no place in New Jersey. Misusing the state’s law enforcement agencies to send messages of intimidation is a partisan ploy to suppress participation in the voting process.”

The Working Families Party (WFP) reported this week that citizens in the swing state of Pennsylvania have been receiving robocalls threatening that personal information about mail-in voters will be shared with law enforcement who will then arrest people on outstanding warrants. The bogus calls also claim that credit card companies will receive information about voters in order to collect outstanding debts.

“These tactics are nothing new,” WFP officials said in a statement. “Time and time again, Republicans have broken the law and engaged in dirty tricks and voter suppression for their own partisan and political gain.”

WFP says cities including Philadelphia and Milwaukee are being targeted with voter suppression tactics because of the slim margin of votes that got Trump elected in 2016.

“We have to counter all of the voter suppression surely coming our way—and that starts with mobilizing an overwhelming margin of voters who didn’t turn out in 2016 around the issues they care about and making sure they know how to vote by mail under the rules of their state,” WFP said.

In Florida, another swing state, reports indicate that 700,000 ex-felons in that state will not be able to vote after a federal appellate court ruled that they must pay all fines, restitution and legal fees before they can cast a ballot. In 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4 by a 2⁄3 majority, expanding voting rights to 1.4 million formerly convicted citizens.

“The 11th Circuit’s decision is a blow to democracy and to the hundreds of thousands of returning citizens across Florida who should have an opportunity to participate in this incredibly important election,” said Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC). “We will continue to place people over politics. We will not rest until we live up to the promise of Amendment 4 and see every one of the 1.4 million returning citizens who want to be a part of our democracy have the opportunity to do so.”

FRRC is vowing to pay the fines and fees of returning citizens. To date, the organization has helped 4,000 people “buy back” their right to vote.

While organizations are trying to prevent voter suppression in person, the threat of digital suppression is on the rise. The organization Stop Online Violence Against Women (SOVAW) recently launched its “Stop Digital Voter Suppression Project” to ensure voters will not be suppressed by disinformation campaigns online.

“Foreign actors and their U.S.-based domestic counterparts are aware of the importance of voters of color, particularly African American voters,” said Shireen Mitchell, founder of SOVAW. “While the suppression of Black voters started well before the Jim Crow era, it previously only relied on physical media such as paper fliers or posters. Now, with the social media space, we are documenting election materials distributed from domestically-based actors, as well as from overseas actors that engage in digital voter suppression.”