Democrats accuse GOP of intimidating blacks

November 02, 1990|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- National Democratic Party officials accused Republicans in North Carolina and Texas yesterday of "despicable" last-minute campaign tactics that seek to intimidate black voters and suppress Democratic turnout in hotly contested U.S. Senate and gubernatorial elections.

The Democrats, who threatened to haul Republicans into court before Tuesday's elections, delivered a letter to U.S. Attorney General Richard L. Thornburgh asking him to probe possible civil rights violations stemming from misleading or inaccurate voter information mailed to predominantly black precincts in both states.

"The need for speedy action is obvious," wrote Ronald H. Brown, the Democratic National Committee chairman. He said evidence of "intimidation techniques" being used in North Carolina and Texas "may be just the tip of the iceberg."

In telephone interviews, Republican chairmen in North Carolina and Texas vehemently denied the accusations. They claimed that Democrats have often raised groundless charges of voter intimidation just before an election or resorted to unfair practices of their own.

Democratic officials here gave reporters copies of postcards that were mailed in the last two months to Democratic strongholds in North Carolina and to mostly elderly black voters in Gregg County in eastern Texas. The postcards were intended to confuse people about legal voting procedures, probably to discourage them from actually voting, the officials said.

"We thought this stuff had passed," said Paul Tully, DNC political director, citing a 1982 consent decree against the Republican National Committee and related parties that barred them from conducting "ballot security activities . . . to deter qualified voters from voting."

In North Carolina, postcards marked "Voter Registration Bulletin" urged people to contact the Board of Elections if they recently moved, saying they must have lived in a precinct for the last 30 days or they couldn't vote.

Jack Hawke, the state GOP chairman, acknowledged that his party targeted voters who recently moved and may have registered improperly, but he called the mailing an attempt "to make a fair and honest election." Only a third of some 150,000 cards were mailed to mainly black precincts, he said, disputing Democratic charges of exploiting racial divisions.

In Texas, postcards were mailed anonymously to black voters who asked for absentee ballots, urging them to "throw that mail ballot in the trash" and "walk proudly into the voting place" instead. Democrats said that a Texas resident who has requested an absentee ballot can't vote in person on Election Day.

Asked about the mailing, Texas Republican Chairman Fred Meyer said the party "had nothing to do with it."

Mr. Tully conceded that Democrats lacked proof that national or local GOP officials were directly involved with the activities in Texas, acknowledging it could be "late-night crazies doing one thing or another." Democrats also couldn't tell whether alleged intimidation tactics were working in either state, he said.

But the tight Texas gubernatorial contest between Democrat Ann Richards and Republican Clayton Williams could turn on poll results in key areas such as Gregg County, Mr. Tully said. And in the close U.S. Senate race in North Carolina between incumbent Republican Sen. Jesse Helms and Democrat Harvey Gantt, the black former mayor of Charlotte, the postcards could weaken Democratic turnout "in an era when turnout is down," Mr. Tully said.

Mr. Helms "is in the fight of his life, and this is when we expect [such] things to start happening," he said.

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