Community members spoke out Monday after they said billboards targeting voter fraud were aimed at preventing people from voting.
The billboards state correctly that voter fraud is a felony punishable by up to three and a half years and a $10,000 fine.
Not only is the statement correct, but it is legal, covered by the right to free speech. However, some believe there is more to the billboards than meets the eye.
“This is intimidation, it’s fear tactics,” Rev. Dale Snyder of Bethel AME Church said.
Clear Channel Outdoor, the company that owns the space, said that there are 30 voter fraud billboards in the Columbus area.
Snyder said that billboards are meant to keep people from getting to the polls. Ohio State professor Dan Tokaji agreed.
“It’s very clear to me that the goal here is to discourage people, probably especially people in minority communities, from coming out to vote,” Tokaji said.
Tokaji said that the tactic it is nothing new, especially in a state as critical to the presidential outcome as Ohio. He pointed to the low instance of actual voter fraud: According to the Franklin County Board of Elections, out of more than 9 million primary and general election ballots cast in Franklin County since 2006, there are just two confirmed cases of voter fraud.
Clear Channel told 10TV its policy is to require advertisers to include a disclaimer on their billboards identifying who paid for it. However, these billboards say, “Paid for by a private family foundation.” Clear Channel said that in this case, the company failed to follow its own policy, calling it a mistake that at this point cannot be fixed.
“I served in the military. I put my life on the line to protect democracy and this does not protect democracy,” Dale said. “It's intimidating and it's taking us backwards."
Tokaji said that the best response to this is accurate information.
“In Ohio, the truth is, that you're eligible to vote even if you have a felony on your record so long as you're not currently incarcerated. And you don't need a government issued photo I.D.,” Tokaji said. “The strongest response to the people who are outraged by these tactics is to go out there and vote on Nov. 6."
The billboards are also up in Cleveland and Cincinnati. Community leaders in those communities said they were concentrated in predominantly minority neighborhoods. Clear Channel denied the claims, but would only provide 10TV four of 30 locations of their billboards in Columbus.
10TV asked Clear Channel for the full list of locations, but they did not respond.
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