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Editorial: Don't fall for the call

While legitimate political organizations are working to get out the vote, some shady operators are using sleazy voter-suppression tactics in an attempt to keep people away from the polls next Tuesday.
Some North Carolina residents have received automated or “robo” telephone calls telling them that they need to fill out a registration form being mailed to them before they can vote, the elections watchdog group Democracy North Carolina reports. The calls are allegedly from “Lamont Williams,” who sounds as if he wants to help people “make your voice heard.” But he instructs them to fill out, date, and return a registration application being mailed to them, and “then you will be able to vote.”
It’s a scam, of course. The deadline for mail-in registrations has already passed, and there’s no such form requirement for voters who are already registered.
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said the calls appear to be directed toward minority voters. Similar calls also have been reported in Virginia and Ohio. “This is another in a long line of deceptive practices used in North Carolina and elsewhere that particularly target African-American voters,” Hall said.
It’s a rare election that doesn’t bring complaints about irregularities. In the 2004 presidential election, some voters received calls falsely saying that their voting places had been changed or that voting would take place on Wednesday as well as Tuesday. Although we’d like to think that voter suppression is the work of renegade groups with no affiliation to mainstream political parties, that’s not necessarily the case. In the 2002 New Hampshire Senate election, Republican officials were caught in a phone-jamming scandal when they paid professional telemarketers to overload Democrats’ ride-to-the-polls phone lines on election day. Four years later, a group of John Kerry’s Democratic campaign workers were convicted in Wisconsin of slashing the tires of 25 vans the state Republican Party used to transport poll watchers and voters who didn’t have a ride.
While robo-call voting misinformation might seem pretty subtle compared to tire slashing, it’s still a serious crime. In North Carolina, it’s a felony to misrepresent election law for the purpose of intimidating voters or discouraging them from going to the polls. Voters who receive suspicious telephone calls or mailings regarding the election should contact state or local election officials. (You can call the State Board of Elections toll free at 866-522-4723.) In conjunction with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Democracy North Carolina will operate two hotlines to field Election Day complaints about voting problems (888-OUR-VOTE or 866-OUR-VOTE).
With passions running unusually high this election, voters may be subjected to more misinformation and political dirty tricks than usual. State officials should be vigorous in investigating complaints and tracing any mischief back to its source. The nation has progressed beyond poll taxes and other institutionalized forms of voter discrimination. Disenfranchisement through trickery and deceit is just as reprehensible.

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