The Most Common Voter Suppression Scams and How to Get Around Them

Voter suppression tactics are as old as the United States itself. Limited voting rights, electoral fees, fraud and, more recently, restrictions on voter identification and targeted closure of polling stations have all been used throughout our country’s history to deny voting to targeted populations.

But even though these strategies to keep people from voting are not new, they are of particular concern this year. Not only did Republicans bet on voter suppression in 2016 , but they took an unprecedented step: The president urged his supporters to “go to the polls and watch very closely” the first presidential debate on Tuesday, which effectively triggered voter intimidation.

This is not to say that voters should be held back by fears about what they might face on election day – quite the opposite. “People should enjoy their fundamental right to vote, they should not be intimidated or laws of which they read, nor anyone or anything they encounter on the way to the polling areas” , – said Julie Ebenshteyn , senior staff attorney at ACLU Voting. A human rights project reports Lifehacker. But you need to know what is being done to make it difficult to vote and how to fix it.

Here are some of the obstacles you might face when voting on November 3rd and what to do about them.

Voting restrictions

There are several ways states can restrict voting, and they are all possible in the upcoming elections. Voter ID requirements are one-way, with 35 states currently requesting or requiring some type of voter identification . Requirements vary from state to state – and may have changed since you last voted – so be sure to check out yours before voting.

Cleaning up voters

Removing voters from the poll is another common tactic used in states, including Wisconsin , where the state Supreme Court is currently considering removing 130,000 voters from the state register. If you go to a vote and find that you have been purged, you can call the ACLU Election Defense Hotline (1-866-Our-Vote) and / or your local election official and then ask for a preliminary vote . Do this before you get upset and walk away.

Limitation of the term of early voting

Another strategy that has been used to suppress voting is to shorten the early voting period, giving people the flexibility to vote when they can. This has already happened in Wisconsin in the upcoming elections, and the Texas Republicans are suing the Republican state governor to prevent him from extending the early voting period.

Closing of polling stations

Finally, southern states are closing polling stations in predominantly minority areas. In fact, a 2019 Civil and Human Rights Leaders’ Conference report found that nearly 1,200 polling stations in the south were closed after the Supreme Court weakened a landmark voting discrimination law in 2013. This year, the process continued in Texas. , Kentucky and Maryland .

Misleading mailers

Prior to the 2018 midterm elections, New Yorkers received letters that appeared to indicate that they had been removed from the poll. The letters sent by Mayor Bill de Blasio were reportedly “so confusing and inaccurate that many voters thought they had been tricked by someone seeking to crush turnout in the midterm elections,” wrote the New York Daily News , resulting in 1600 calls were made to the Election Commission.

This is also a concern in 2020. On September 12, a senior Colorado Election Commission filed a lawsuit against the postmaster general and other USPS executives, “claiming that the letter sent to voters in the state was an attempt to strip them of their voting rights by offering misleading information. on how to vote by mail, ” reports the New York Times . Six days later, the USPS agreed to destroy all mail programs with misleading Colorado mail voting information that had not yet been sent out.

Submitting inaccurate or confusing information lowers voter turnout for a number of reasons: either because voters do not know the exact timing, or because they may mistakenly believe that they are no longer registered to vote. Email programs often contain important information, so you don’t want to ignore them, but double check the timeline and your poll address before you vote.

Misinformation on social networks

Email programs are one of the components of disinformation campaigns; social media is a bigger and more insidious threat. One example of why, as reported in 2018 by Fox’s Illinois subsidiary : In 2016, the Illinois Election Commission warned that “the FBI found text messages and social media campaigns that claimed to offer users the ability to vote electronically or promoted incorrect voting information. … “

Similar messages propagating false information were circulated during the 2016 elections:

You cannot vote online anywhere in the US – you must vote in person or with an absentee ballot. Here’s how to find your polling station . Again, social media can be a great place to find the information you want, which also makes it an ideal place to spread misinformation. Make sure you are looking for the proper sources for statements — especially those that claim “no one knows” about them — and check the website of the ACLU or other non-profit voting organization for the correct information.

Federal election crimes

Last week, the FBI issued a warning to voters about various election-related crimes that could occur from now until November 3. “Every year, Americans choose their leaders and declare that their voice will be heard in the elections,” Calvin Shivers, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigations, said in a statement . “These elections must remain free and fair in order for voters to truly be heard. As Americans prepare to vote, the FBI is asking every citizen to remain vigilant and immediately report to the FBI any suspected criminal schemes aimed at voters. “

Although the responsibility for managing their own elections lies with individual states and localities, electoral crime becomes a federal crime when one or more of the following events occur:

  • One or more federal candidates are included in the ballot.
  • Officials in elections or polling stations abuse their office
  • The behavior is associated with false voter registration.
  • The crime is motivated by hostility towards classes protected by minorities.
  • This activity violates federal campaign finance law.

Examples of federal election crimes include , but are not limited to:

  • Providing false information when registering to vote
  • Voting more than once
  • Change of marking of ballots or other falsification of ballots
  • Voter Compensation
  • Threats to voters with physical or financial harm
  • Intentionally lying about the time, method or location of an election in order to prevent qualified voters from voting
  • Political fundraising by federal employees
  • Campaign contributions in excess of statutory limits
  • Contributions to the pipeline
  • Contributions from foreign or other prohibited sources
  • Personal or unauthorized use of campaign funds

If you see or encounter any of the above, report any potential election crime to your local FBI office as soon as possible.

Identity theft

Voters need to beware of more than just politicians; Identity thieves also take advantage of America’s convoluted and time-consuming registration process. For example, in 2018, some New Yorkers reported a phone call asking for personal information under the guise of voter registration . But you cannot register to vote or vote by phone or SMS in the US.

The FTC warned of these scams back in 2008: “Scammers can send messages asking for your Social Security number or financial information, ostensibly to register you to vote – or to verify your registration – when they really want to commit identity theft. “.

In addition, “scammers are posing as political volunteers, trying to entice voters to donate money by asking for cash or a credit card number, ” warns AARP . “Experts say these messages should be viewed as suspicious and are urging consumers not to respond to numbers they don’t recognize.” The AARP notes that “Deep South, Washington DC, and states such as Michigan and Texas” are particularly frequent targets because voters are more ardent. Legal volunteers may call you, but they are unlikely to start calling asking for money. If you pick up the phone and someone asks for donations or other personal information, hang up. Even if the call is legitimate, it is better to go to the campaign website and make a donation than to send your information over the phone.

Threats and intimidation

In 2018, a non-partisan election administrator from Dallas County, Texas, said harassment of voters, such as name-calling and violent questions, was “the worst she has seen in decades,” according to ProPublica :

At the Lakeside Activity Center in Mesquite, Texas, election administrators received complaints about a proponent who looked over the shoulders of voters as they voted and questioned voters about his policies. The man was taken out of the Mesquita police station later Monday after he refused to leave the premises.

This tactic can unnerve voters. “If this is your first time electing – say, a young voter or minority voter, first-time Spanish citizen voting for the first time – and you have an aggressive white guy yelling at you when you walk in, that could backfire. effect, ”Calvin Gilson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, told ProPublica. “This is done to dissuade people from voting.”

Also note that most states prohibit political messaging within 100 feet of a polling station and any campaigning (including, for example, wearing a T-shirt or campaign button). And yes, this includes presidential-requested election observers who are strictly prohibited from interfering with the electoral process or from directly approaching voters. If you encounter this while voting, please inform your local electoral representative or call the ACLU Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-Our-Vote.

If you are denied to vote because you are not on the voter lists or do not have proper identification, contact your local election official for an explanation and submit a provisional vote. And even before you go to the polls, find your polling station and check what you need to vote for . Arm yourself with information, and in case of refusal, know your rights .

This post was originally published in 2018 and was updated on October 1, 2020 to include new information on voter suppression tactics, as well as information on how to report it.


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