- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Voter-suppression tactics utilizing text messages and social networking Web sites specifically targeted new voters Tuesday as millions were drawn to the polls in the 2008 presidential election, voting rights groups said.

Messages were sent to users of the Web site Facebook falsely stating either that Democrats were to vote Wednesday or that the whole election had been postponed a day, they said.

Heather Smith, spokeswoman for the youth-voting group Rock the Vote, said students at some universities, including Florida State University, received text messages saying the same thing. She said students at Drexel University in Philadelphia received fliers indicating they would be arrested at the polls if they had unpaid parking tickets.

While the wording of the messages was similar, the groups said there was no evidence that there was a coordinated plot. Young voters were expected to turn out in big numbers for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

“We’re actually surprised at how ubiquitous it has become and how sophisticated it has become,” said Jonah Goldman, director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections.

Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition of voting rights group, said new voters, along with voters in predominately minority neighborhoods, received robocalls and fliers listing the wrong time and place to vote. It said this occurred in about a dozen states, double from 2004, and included Virginia. Most appeared to be aimed at Obama supporters, it said.

But unlike past years, the group said, it has not seen any large-scale challenges of the eligibility of voters at the polls. That tactic has been used to weed out ineligible voters and possibly prevent voter fraud, but it is also associated with voter suppression. The group suspects court proceedings helped stop challenges at the polls.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain’s campaign said it received reports that out-of-state volunteers for Mr. Obama were voting in Florida, that two members of the Black Panthers were intimidating voters at a polling place in Philadelphia and that voters in Palm Beach County, Fla., had difficulty finding Mr. McCain’s name because it appeared on the second page of the ballot.

The campaign also sued Virginia election officials, claiming absentee ballots weren’t mailed on time to overseas military personnel, many of whom were likely to vote for the Arizona senator. The absentee ballots had to be received by Tuesday to be counted, but the suit seeks that any ballot postmarked Tuesday and received by Nov. 14 is counted, according to lawyer Ashley L. Taylor Jr., who represents the McCain campaign.

Millions of absentee ballots were sent this year to voters across the U.S.

Mr. McCain won a legal victory Tuesday when a judge ruled that absentee ballots received late be preserved properly pending the outcome of the case.

Mr. Taylor said about 12 percent of Virginia’s 500,000 requested absentee ballots had not yet been returned, many of which went to the 183,000 military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those ballots take on particular significance in a battleground state such as Virginia.

Instances of fraud and suppression have been far outnumbered by issues related to the expected record turnout. Reports of long lines at the polls, malfunctioning voting machines and ballot shortages came from several states Tuesday, including Virginia, Florida and Pennsylvania.

“Virginia continues to experience record turnout at its polls statewide,” said Susan Pollard of the Virginia election board. “Despite the excessive volume, all Virginia polling places are open and functioning.”

Miss Smith, of Rock the Vote, said students from Virginia Tech encountered serious problems, including a large turnout and a notice from the local registrar of elections incorrectly stating that students who registered there would risk losing their status as dependents, student aid and coverage under their parents health insurance. The Internal Revenue Service later released a statement disputing the truthfulness of the notice.


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