A Breitbart.com blogger attacked the Cleveland Plain Dealer for daring to criticize the reappearance of a common tactic used to suppress minority votes.
Several billboards warning of the consequences of voter fraud began appearing around predominantly black and poor neighborhoods in Cleveland, Ohio and other cities. The billboards read: "Voter Fraud Is A Felony! Up to 3 1/2 Yrs & $10,000 Fine." The billboard space was purchased anonymously from Clear Channel, which regrets that it granted the buyers anonymity but will not take down the signs.
The Plain Dealer published an editorial saying that the billboards were "a despicable election tactic" and that the billboards were put up to "intimidate voters in poor neighborhoods and to sow confusion.
Breitbart.com columnist William Bigelow responded that by taking this stance, the Plain Dealer "is now tacitly encouraging voters to commit voter fraud."
But the Plain Dealer has the facts on its side.
Conservatives have used such signs as part of past campaigns to intimidate minority voters. In 1981, the Republican National Committee hung similar posters and took other steps to suppress minority voters, but later agreed to stop such tactics after the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit:
Courts in the past found that Republicans used tactics that were aimed at intimidating minority voters and suppressing their votes. The consent decrees in New Jersey stemmed from several incidents in the 1980s.
In 1981, the Republican National Committee sent letters to predominantly black neighborhoods in New Jersey, and when 45,000 letters were returned as undeliverable, the committee compiled a challenge list to remove those voters from the rolls. The RNC sent off-duty law enforcement officials to the polls and hung posters in heavily black neighborhoods warning that violating election laws is a crime.
Voting rights advocates have expressed in detail how the billboards can intimidate voters and suppress the minority vote. Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates research director Norman Robbins told the Huffington Post:
Robbins said the billboards could have a strong impact on people who've spent time in prison. "It scares the living daylight out of them," he said. "They say if I make the slightest mistake I could go to jail again."
And really, given that the billboards are only going up in poor and minority neighborhoods, how much clearer can the intent to stigmatize or intimidate minority voters be?