Voter beware

Our view : Voters in Maryland and elsewhere should be on guard for election scams

October 01, 2008

With less than five weeks before the Nov. 4 presidential elections, organized campaigns to disenfranchise large swaths of the electorate are popping up like evil weeds across the country, especially in the crucial battleground states likely to decide the contest.

Even in Maryland, where access to the polls has been relatively unfettered, officials are fighting persistent rumors that people who lose their homes to foreclosure won't be allowed to vote. It's unclear who's circulating the false information, but officials have taken it seriously enough to post a rebuttal on the State Board of Elections Web site. Meanwhile, the presidential campaigns are scrambling to get as many voters to the polls as possible and reminding people that Oct. 14 is the last day to register to vote in Maryland.

Yet with more people than ever expected to vote this year, news reports paint an ominous picture of organized efforts to discourage college students and African-Americans from voting. Well-organized campaigns to suppress voter turnout through intimidation, misinformation and scare tactics have been reported in at least six states.

Last month in Colorado, for example, a Republican county clerk who had served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention mailed fliers to Colorado College officials suggesting that out-of-state students couldn't register to vote if their parents listed them as dependents on their income tax returns. When Democrats objected, the clerk admitted the documents were misleading, but the damage was already done by the confusion they sowed.

In North Carolina, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People petitioned the state attorney general to bar a group called Women's Voices, Women Vote from making thousands of automated phone calls to African-American women. The calls falsely claimed the women could skip registering to vote because the group was sending them forms in the mail.

In Alabama, a black minister's drive to register prison inmates was halted after GOP officials complained about potential voter fraud.

These shenanigans are outrageous, if somewhat predictable. But they're being carried out with a particular vehemence this year, and the forms they're taking are too widespread and too well-coordinated to be mere coincidence. Nor is it coincidental that the most egregious examples are in battleground states where the outcome could turn on just a few percentage points, or that the disinformation campaigns and intimidation are specifically targeting likely Democratic voters.

Citizens everywhere need to be aware of their rights and resist fraudulent efforts to keep them from casting their ballots. No one should be dissuaded from going to the polls by malicious schemes designed to deprive them of the fundamental right to vote.

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