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Are there dirty tricks?
November 3, 2008 1:48 AM   Subscribe

Is it true about dirty tricks being played in the US elections?

Watching the US election on the BBC last night one interviewed woman was talking about how in some areas leaflets were being distributed saying that republicans vote on the day of the election and democrats the day after, and in others signs that if you had an outstanding warrant you could get arrested there.

Is this sort of thing true? If so who does it and why isn't it being stopped?
posted by gadha to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's a voter suppression wiki that talks about a lot of this stuff, and has an incident tracker.

Apparently the things you've mentioned have happened in some places.

There's an interesting movie trailer about black voter suppression in the 2004 (I think) election.
posted by peggynature at 2:26 AM on November 3, 2008


(Scroll to bottom of page on last link to see the trailer...sorry.)
posted by peggynature at 2:28 AM on November 3, 2008


Yes.

For some interesting stories about election fraud, read Robert A. Caro's 'The Years of Lyndon Johnson' (warning: this will take about three years of your life but it's worth it). Especially the story of how he bought his first Senate seat in Texas is illuminating. Johnson won the seat with a 47 vote lead in a state with over 1 million voters. The trick was to delay the reporting of votes from certain counties that were controlled by the candidate, so that the tally could be adapted to the number of votes needed to win the election. It was common practice on both sides at the time it seems, but Johnson took it so far as to even shock his seasoned colleagues.

Upon his arrival in the Senate, he introduced himself to the other senators with the words: "Hello, I'm landslide Johnson".
posted by NekulturnY at 2:28 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes, it happens every year. It happens on years when there is no presidential election. It's been happening for decades.

Who does it? Generally Republicans. They post the wrong election date in black neighborhoods, for example, to reduce Democrat turn-out. Democrats may have done it in the past -- I can't say with any certainty that they haven't, but it would be more difficult for them to target Republican constituencies.

It believe it is a misdemeanor if one is caught distributing false voting information to voters, which in the U.S. is punishable by a year or less in prison. "Caught" being the operative word.
posted by Nattie at 2:47 AM on November 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


See also
posted by pompomtom at 3:12 AM on November 3, 2008


Rolling Stone did a good introductory article about this: Block The Vote
posted by holloway at 3:15 AM on November 3, 2008


Who does it? Generally Republicans. . . . it would be more difficult for them to target Republican constituencies.

Maybe you're just not imagining hard enough. The opposite of suppressing the vote is "vote early, vote often", something that more than a few democrats have been accused of. As one might expect from politics, it appears that there's no shortage of dirty tricks on either side of the aisle.
posted by toomuchpete at 4:37 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The opposite of suppressing the vote is "vote early, vote often", something that more than a few democrats have been accused of.

Exactly, while people may rightly accuse the GOP of attempting to disenfranchise people, the Democrats expend their dirty trick efforts on tying to enfranchise people. People such as the dead, comatose, or otherwise ineligable. I personally have an opinion about which is worse, but I'll allow you to draw your own conclusions.

The Federal Election Commission and the state versions of the same are supposed to stop it, but, like all government agencies, they are subject to the "checks and balances" of elected officials.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:16 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Check this out. Almost made me lose my will to vote. Almost.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:20 AM on November 3, 2008


It's not stopped because as crimes go, it's nearly impossible to investigate. All you know is that somebody put some flyers into the mail, or went around one night putting them on doorknobs. Figuring out who, exactly, did these terribly anonymous things is nigh on impossible barring egregious fuckups on the part of the evildoers.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:52 AM on November 3, 2008


I heard Spencer Overton speak on his book Stealing Democracy a few months back, and it was pretty compelling.
posted by rinosaur at 5:58 AM on November 3, 2008


Thanks for these answers. What I am wondering is why isnt there a push to make people aware of their rights clearly? With an educated populace like in the USA and with the mediums of communication surely it should be easy, e.g. , to have a TV campaign making people aware of their rights and providing a mechanism to report problems?
posted by gadha at 6:27 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


because an ignorant populace is easier to sway?
posted by plinth at 6:39 AM on November 3, 2008


As a general rule, Republicans benefit by discouraging turnout and Democrats benefit by increasing turnout, and any shenanigans engaged in by the respective parties reflects those ends. We make it much harder to register to vote in the US than it ought to be.

Given the internet, however, I think that a lot of things that would have gone unreported or underreported are now getting more attention, and some of the more egregious tactics (dressing up as INS Agents and hanging around polling places, or even hiring off-duty cops to go hang out in uniform outside of polling places) will be harder to get away with nowadays- all it take is one person with a cellphone camera uploading it to YouTube and suddenly the whole world knows about it.

I am currently in a battleground state volunteering for the Obama campaign to do Voter Protection- I will be at a polling place all day on Tuesday, encouraging people to stay in line to vote and alerting the party if anything untoward seems to be happening.
posted by ambrosia at 6:41 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Recently, it HAS been Republicans. But historically, it is all over the place. It often followed race lines. Whichever party contained the racist bloc at the time.

Why isn't there a push to make people aware of their rights? There is- voting information is all over the place. Heck, for major elections, voting day is a day off of work. I doubt that people are swayed by it.

It is sickening how people feel like winning via dirty tricks is somehow honorable...
posted by gjc at 6:44 AM on November 3, 2008


What I am wondering is why isnt there a push to make people aware of their rights clearly?

You mean, why aren't there constant ads bombarding the population with "ELECTION DAY IS NOV. 4TH, FOR EVERYONE!" and "REPORT FALSE FLIERS TO THE POLICE IMMEDIATELY!"?

Probably because public service ad dollars are legitimately better spent on other things. In those relatively rare events when false fliers or the like get distributed, AFAIK the local authorities generally do take some pains to clear things up.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:56 AM on November 3, 2008


all it take is one person with a cellphone camera uploading it to YouTube and suddenly the whole world knows about it.

But that's the thing, nothing mentioned thus far is illegal. Nothing is illegal about sending fliers, nothing is illegal about simply being a cop at a polling place or dressing up in a costume. it sucks, but it isn't illegal, sadly.

Even if the whole world is watching what is there to be done about it? The campaigns make sure to stay extremely distanced from these tactics, giving them plenty of deniability room. They point to a few rogue agents out in the public and say there is nothing that they can do while at the same time funnelling well laundered, bleached, starched, and pressed money to them through the back channels of back channels. ROU_X has it right, even when crimes are committed, it is nearly impossible to prove and completely inpossible to prove "conspiracy" which takes the most solid of evidence and would be all you do to tie te charges back to anyone that really mattered.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:58 AM on November 3, 2008


Heck, for major elections, voting day is a day off of work. I doubt that people are swayed by it.

Not unless you're a public employee. Hardly anybody I know has the day off, which is why "early voting" is so popular, and there is a push in some areas to change election day from a Tuesday to the weekend.
posted by dforemsky at 7:30 AM on November 3, 2008


Street Fight, the film about Cory Booker's fight to become Mayor in Newark, NJ, is worth watching. The incumbent at the time used a number of blatant tricks to win the election. Booker won the next go-round, but it's a painful watch nonetheless.
posted by GilloD at 7:35 AM on November 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Reposting because my comment stating that election fraud goes both ways was deleted. The idea that telling someone they will be arrested at the polls if they have outstanding warrants affects members of both parties. Long lines affect members of both parties. I don't know where you live, but in many districts the polls are open from 7:00Am to 8:00PM. So unless there are lines of thugs with baseball hats and McCain Palin buttons there should be plenty of opportunity for people of both parties to vote. (some more than once)
posted by Gungho at 7:42 AM on November 3, 2008


There is a push to inform people of their rights. Civil rights groups ranging from the NAACP to the ACLU push this every election season. There's also several good web sites, ranging from the pages of state governments to national groups such as:

www.PreparedToVote.org
www.866OurVote.org
www.CanIVote.org (sponsored by the National Association of Secretaries of State)


The individual campaigns do their part, as well. Part of the reason we're seeing so much early voting is because the Obama campaign has been encouraging people to do so in order to avoid chicanery.


@dforemsky: In many states, you have the right to leave work to go vote:

http://www.findlaw.com/voting-rights-law.html

That time off may not be paid, mind you.....
posted by magstheaxe at 7:51 AM on November 3, 2008


Thanks for these answers. What I am wondering is why isnt there a push to make people aware of their rights clearly? With an educated populace like in the USA and with the mediums of communication surely it should be easy, e.g. , to have a TV campaign making people aware of their rights and providing a mechanism to report problems?

There are. This information is broadcast on all local news stations, on some early-morning national news shows, and the radio. The proper information is ALSO mailed to every registered voter.

The problem with the former is that sometimes the specific information -- i.e., what TIME the polls open and what time they close, what kind of identification you should bring with you -- varies from state to state, so the national media cannot provide specific information (polls open at 7 am in Kansas, but 6 am in Minnesota, but if you live in Iowa, it's..."). Most national media broadcasts give general information ("voting is Tuesday") and then encourage people to take the extra step to contact their local voting board. Local media has a similar problem -- they can get a little more specific, but not by much. And neither of those TV broadcasts do much good if people are watching reruns of HOGAN'S HEROES instead of watching the news anyway.

As for the latter -- things in the mail from the voting board -- they usually get perceived by many as "junk mail," because during election years EVERYONE is getting a CONSTANT stream of mail from candidates for every city, state, and national election in which they are eligible to vote. In years past, I've gotten as many as 3 flyers PER WEEK from a single candidate in the months leading up to election.

It's not that people aren't getting the accurate information, it's more like they're getting a GLUT of information, and are either having a hard time sorting through it all or they've just hit saturation point and tuned out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:53 AM on November 3, 2008


But that's the thing, nothing mentioned thus far is illegal.

Wrong - even the very incident the OP mentioned was illegal! In 2007, the General Assembly passed a law making it a Class 1 misdemeanor to knowingly communicate false information to registered voters about the date, time and place of the election or voters' precincts, polling places or voter registration statuses in order to impede their voting. The measure is one of the few such deceptive voting practice laws in the country, according to the watchdog group Common Cause
posted by 0xFCAF at 7:56 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wrong - even the very incident the OP mentioned was illegal! In 2007, the General Assembly passed a law making it a Class 1 misdemeanor to knowingly communicate false information to registered voters about the date, time and place of the election or voters' precincts, polling places or voter registration statuses in order to impede their voting. The measure is one of the few such deceptive voting practice laws in the country, according to the watchdog group Common Cause

Can you show any proof that any specific person knowingly communicated false information? Knowingly indicates conspiracy, to make a charge of conspiracy stick you must have specific evidence. Without a suspect or evidence there is no crime as far as a prosecutor is concerned. But again, even that exceptional law does not make it illegal to be a uniformed cop at a polling place. Voter intimidation, though we all know it happens, is virtually impossible to prove. A gaggle of big thugs with baseball bats standing by the door could be there to scare people, or they could be a bunch of guys about to shag some balls after they vote, your camera phone is not going to distiguish. Now if you get them on video telling people they'd "better vote Ron Paul or else", that is different.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:56 AM on November 3, 2008


I can't prove the "knowingly" but it's hard to imagine that someone genuinely believed that older voters and newly registered voters in Florida could vote by phone, and cared enough to let them know. Apparently, the helpful people making these informative calls don't care about long-time registered voters, since they weren't getting calls like this. Makes you wonder.
posted by rtha at 11:52 AM on November 3, 2008


Is your serious assertion that someone sent out a flier, on fake letterhead, telling Republicans to vote on the 4th and Democrats on the 5th, while under the belief that that was actually the case?
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:45 PM on November 3, 2008


It's been going on for a long, long time. Back in the day, you might be assaulted, shot, even killed as you walked toward the polling place. Learn about this and more in this article, from the New Yorker magazine, about the history of voting in the U.S.
posted by exphysicist345 at 5:24 PM on November 3, 2008


FWIW, they recently found the guy who did the Virginia flyer, but the article states that no charges will be filed. It doesn't say why not.
posted by Nattie at 7:04 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can't prove the "knowingly" but it's hard to imagine

That's just it, we can all believe that this was done intentionally and knowingly, it even seems ridiculous to argue otherwise, but without a statement on record where the guy says, "hey, let's distribute this and screw up the election for Obama!" you've got jack-squat towards prooving conspiracy.

Is your serious assertion that someone sent out a flier, on fake letterhead, telling Republicans to vote on the 4th and Democrats on the 5th, while under the belief that that was actually the case?

No it is my serious assertion that without proof of conspiracy to commit fraud, there is no way to prosecute such a case. Therefore:

they recently found the guy who did the Virginia flyer, but the article states that no charges will be filed
posted by Pollomacho at 10:43 AM on November 4, 2008


That's like saying if I killed someone but properly destroyed all the evidence, it must have been legal because no one could prove that I did it.
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:12 PM on November 4, 2008


But that's the thing, nothing mentioned thus far is illegal. Nothing is illegal about sending fliers,

It was your assertion that the sending of fliers like this was not illegal. It is. It is absolutely illegal. Proving it in court, like proving any other illegal thing in court, is a different matter, but that doesn't make this stuff legal.
posted by rtha at 2:57 PM on November 4, 2008


That's like saying if I killed someone but properly destroyed all the evidence, it must have been legal because no one could prove that I did it.

Proving it in court, like proving any other illegal thing in court, is a different matter, but that doesn't make this stuff legal.


No, no you're misunderestimating what I'm saying here. Sure it's terrible and it may very well be illegal, but it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, therefore the purpetrator is and must be considered innocent. That's what Ameican rule of law is all about! If you killed someone and successfully destroyed all evidence of your crime, then you would walk free. Shit, you don't even have to destroy the overwhelming evidence, just ask OJ! And that is murder we're talking about, big, messy, obvious. I mean first of all you've got a dead body right there, so clearly there's a crime. With conspiracy charges you have to show that someone thought something, felt something, and then acted upon those feelings. Now tell me how easy it is to read someone's thoughts. How easy is it to read someone's thoughts weeks, months, or years ago? That is the problem with conspiracy, and unless you can prove guilt, there is no guilt, period.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:23 AM on November 5, 2008


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