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Sunday, 21 October 2012 15:48

Union lawyers caution over voter suppression at the polls

Written by  By Raisa Camargo | VOXXI
Union lawyers caution over voter suppression at the polls Ken Barcus/NPR

With three weeks left to Election Day, civil rights organizations and union lawyers are getting ready to overcome voter suppression. An anonymous “family foundation” is paying for billboards warning against voter fraud, like this one in a minority neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland. Clear Channel, which owns the space, says the anonymity violates its policies but it will not take the ads down.

The most contentious cases for voter ID laws were overturned in several states, yet advocates assert that in three battleground states including Nevada, Florida and Pennsylvania other voter suppression efforts are still underway.

AFL-CIO executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker told reporters during a conference call that there are examples of intimidation surfacing including billboard advertisements on voter fraud. The billboards have already appeared in Florida and Ohio. Union lawyers claim these ads are propagandizing the message that those who commit voter fraud will be incarcerated for two to three years.

“People absolutely know that, but when you start to have that kind of intimidation it could be pretty threatening to you,” said Baker.

Both sides will be on full watch November 6. True the Vote, a Houston based organization that is affiliated with the Tea Party, call their poll watching activities “election integrity.” Civil rights organizations such as AFL-CIO see it a different way and consider the more right wing organization’s monitoring as a scare tactic. Yet, organizers from True the Vote state they want the election process to be fair and lawful.

Pennsylvania is one case in point.

Earlier this month, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson halted a photo ID law that would obligate voters to show identification on Election Day. Election officials can still ask for photo identification, but they won’t be able to prevent people from voting if they don’t have the photo ID.

Irwin Aronson, voter protection lawyer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is a long time union laborer. Aronson claimed several public utilities in the state have been sending out newsletters to their customers that were printed prior to the law being enjoined telling customers that they must have a valid photo ID in order to be permitted to vote. One of those cases was the utility company PECO that admitted on Oct 17 of sending faulty Voter ID information to 1.3 million customers in seven Pennsylvania counties.

“The reality is that Pennsylvania has just a hair under 10,000 precincts staffed by volunteers, which may or may not choose to participate in the training that’s available to them and as a result we might see confusion on the part of poll workers,” Aronson said.

Matt Gauger, a labor lawyer in Nevada, says there is a different problem in that state. He doesn’t fault Nevada’s election system. The issue is on the ground. Gauger explained that they’re focusing on areas where there have been problems in the past, which tend to be working class areas.

“There’s a particular threat in Las Vegas about Latino voter suppression and we are focusing on the voting locations where a larger percentage of Latinos reside,” said Gauger.

“That’s where the issues were in 2008where people tried to interfere with voting,” he said.

Voter suppression at the polls

Such cases are not uncommon, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. In 2011, challenges were filed from Tea Party groups serving as poll monitors against Latino voters in Southbridge, Massachusetts. In the 2012 Wisconsin recall election, True the Vote poll watchers challenged college students using inaccurate voter lists resulting in a number of students opting not to vote because of the long lines.

The union lawyers argued that because of the confusion, they believe poll workers will start asking people for an ID and might be misinformed. Sometimes it can be as cumbersome as running out of forms or that there are not enough poll workers. The union lawyers are particularly worried about concerns arising early in the day and late in the afternoon because of rush hour.

“Of course someone who is standing in line and is number 86 in line and doesn’t have her driver’s license with herthis isn’t like going to the deli counter at the local grocery store where they give you a number and say come on back,” said Irwin.

AFL-CIO is also hearing cases of employers pressuring workers to support specific candidates.

In reference to the Voter ID laws, the Brennan Justice Center signaled that although ”it is too early to quantify how the changes will impact voter turnout, they will be a hindrance to many voters.” In general, the Brennan Center cites that the United States continues to turn out less than two thirds of its eligible citizens in presidential elections and less than half in midterm elections.

Still, as of this month, 11 courts have blocked or blunted voting restriction laws. In Florida and Ohio, early voting and voter registration drives have been restored.

At the same, civil rights organizations are indicating that they have a positive outlook with turnout and are undertaking measures to protect the right to vote by being vigilantes on Election Day.

Next week, the AFL-CIO will be targeting mailing and phone calls to 100,000 union households in Pennsylvania to explain that they do not need Voter ID. The organization will have close to 2,000 poll monitors on Election Day and has recruited 300 union lawyers. Organizers will be on call to hear issues on voter rights for a rapid response.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials projected that 12.2 million Latinos will turn out in November and they’re standing by that estimate despite cases of voter suppression.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO, told reporters during a conference call Thursday that in 2008 9.2 million Latinos would vote and the actual number was 9.7. In 2010, they projected that 6.5 million Latinos would turn out and the actual figure was 6.7 million.

“Our projection of 12.2 voters in November 2012 is actually very conservative and we feel very confident that we will meet and hopefully surpass that number,” Vargas said.

Link to original article from VOXXI

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