Voter Intimidation, “Caging” and “Purges” May Challenge Voters at Polls

In Travis County, TX, a man standing at a polling place deliberately told voters to mark their ballots incorrectly, according to a press release by the Elections Division of Travis County Clerk Dana Debeauvoir’s office. He wore business attire and addressed Democrats specifically, as if he were an election official, said the press release. When confronted, he fled from the scene. He has not been caught. “This is a very rare occurrence,” said Debeauvoir in a phone interview. She said the press release and publicizing of the incident were done “in order to nip [voter misinformation] in the bud. . .We’re trying to oust this behavior right now.” A similar attempt to mislead voters was made at the Drexel University Campus in Philadelphia last month. Anonymously typed flyers left on tabletops around campus warned that policemen would be inside and outside of polling places executing outstanding arrest warrants, said Sean Miller, President of the Drexel Democrats. In fact, Title 25 of the Pennsylvania Statutes requires policemen to stay at least one hundred feet away from polling places, but college students are not necessarily aware of that law. And other voters in America this year may mangle their ballots—or avoid the voting booth altogether—because they have also been misinformed or intimidated by people deliberately attempting to skew election results. The Committee of Seventy, a non-partisan Philadelphia organization dedicated to working for truly fair and competitive elections, has records of many similar incidents on their website, In one incident, rumors circulated among college students that their parents would not be able to claim them as dependents if they registered as voters in Pennsylvania. Students were also warned that they would be arrested at the polls for having not paid parking tickets. According to University of Pennsylvania professor Rogers Smith, voter intimidation and misinformation have had a long history in the United States, but has increased in recent years. In an email, he wrote: “…As both legal and illegal immigration have risen in recent years and as national politics has been very evenly divided between two highly polarized national parties, efforts to challenge voters have been on the rise. In the last two presidential elections, we’ve had far more charges of such tactics than we did in the 1980s and early 1990s.” There are also issues built into the election system that make voting more difficult, such as voter purges. New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice describes them on its website: States regularly attempt to purge voter lists of ineligible voters or duplicate registration records, but the lists that states use as the basis for purging are often riddled with errors. Because some states are not required by law to provide public or individual notice of a purge, erroneously purged voters often have little time to correct these errors. More often they are surprised when they arrive at the polls and find that they are unregistered. An analysis of a practice called voter caging was also available on the Brennan Center’s website, written by Justin Levitt and Andrew Allison in June 2007. Voter caging is the process of using pieces of returned direct mail to challenge the registration basis of the voter at that address. The process was recognized by Congress as notoriously unreliable with the passage of the 1996 National Voter Registration Act. Voter caging is rarely partisan and is generally used by one party to challenge registration of those who are likely to vote for the opposition. The process often targets urban and minority voters.