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Nasty campaign tactics: phony voting instructions

By Curt Anderson

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:01 p.m. HST, Oct 31, 2012

MIAMI » With a week to go until Election Day, the nasty campaign tactics are coming out.

People in Florida, Virginia and Indiana have gotten calls falsely telling them they can vote early by phone and don't need to go to a polling place. In suburban Broward County, Fla., a handful of elderly voters who requested absentee ballots say they were visited by unknown people claiming to be authorized to collect the ballots.

And there's a mysterious DVD popping up in mailboxes that purports to be a documentary raising questions about the true identity of President Barack Obama's father.

It's one more indication of just how close this presidential election is. Voting rights advocates say reports of political deception and underhandedness are on the rise.

"Unfortunately it seems like the shadowy individuals that want to prevent people from voting are doing things earlier," said Eric Marshall, legal mobilization manager at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The organization is part of a coalition called Election Protection that is monitoring voting access and rights nationwide, including a toll-free hotline set up to take complaints.

"Each American's vote matters. It's important to them and it's important to the community," Marshall said.

Indiana's secretary of state launched an investigation of the phony voting instructions being phoned to homes in that state, and Virginia officials issued a warning to voters there asking them to report any such calls.

In the Broward County, Fla., case, elderly voters "were told, 'I'm an official and I'm here to pick up your absentee ballot,'" said Alma Gonzalez, a senior Florida Democratic Party official working on voter protection efforts. "There is no official who picks up your ballot."

In addition to those cases, garish billboards warning that voter fraud is a crime punishable by jail time and fines were put up in minority neighborhoods in Ohio and Wisconsin. They were recently taken down amid complaints they were aimed at intimidating African-American and Latino voters. The people behind the billboards have not come forward.

"It's hard to believe that these were just public service announcements," Marshall said. "Those neighborhoods were specifically targeted."

"It doesn't pass the smell test."

Independent Florida voter Jane Bowman smelled something bad, too, when she recently discovered a DVD in her mailbox questioning the identity of Obama's father.

"I think it's just a dirty trick. It just astonished me," said Bowman, a Jacksonville resident who says she plans to vote for Obama as she did four years ago. "I think they're doing everything they can to win Florida. It's a sorry situation."

The DVD's director, who says he has mailed some 7 million copies to homes in swing states, says that he is unaffiliated with political campaigns or their supporters and that the film reflects his own painstaking research into Obama's family background.

The DVD, "Dreams from My Real Father," posits that the president's true father was a communist agitator, author and poet living in Hawaii named Frank Marshall Davis — not the Kenyan man who shares the president's name. Both men are now dead.

The title is a reference to Obama's book about his family history. That book does mention a poet named "Frank" who was a friend of Obama's maternal grandfather.

In an interview, DVD director Joel Gilbert described himself as a nonpartisan independent who seeks only to tell what he views as an extremely important story. Gilbert said he did not coordinate distribution of the DVD with any political entity and also took no political contributions to finance it. Yet the DVD was targeted at voters in key battleground states, including 1.5 million in Florida and 1.2 million in Ohio, according to Gilbert's website.

"It's a publicity measure," he said of the free mail distribution. "This has been an effort to force and embarrass the media into covering the content of the film."

Gilbert declined to disclose how the DVD and its distribution were financed, saying his production company is private and not required to. He has also made what he calls "mockumentaries" exploring whether former Beatle Paul McCartney might really be dead — as was rumored in the 1960s — and finding Elvis Presley alive and living as a federal agent in Southern California. He has also done films on Islamic-Jewish relations and Iran's strategic ambitions.

Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher declined comment on the DVD.

Another mysterious batch of mailings to voters in at least 23 Florida counties is being investigated by the FBI and state officials. These anonymous letters, which were postmarked from Seattle, raise questions about the voter's citizenship and provide a form that supposedly must immediately be filled out and returned to elections officials. Otherwise, the letter says, the voter's name will be purged from the rolls.

"A nonregistered voter who casts a vote in the State of Florida may be subject to arrest, imprisonment, and/or other criminal sanctions," warns one of the official-looking letters complete with eagle-and-flag logo, which appear to have been aimed mainly at registered Republicans.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has asked all of the state's supervisors of elections to report any similar letters. There could also be federal charges against those responsible.

Voting rights advocates also say there have been scattered complaints of bosses ordering employees to support a particular presidential candidate or face job repercussions. And in the past, students and other groups have been the targets of robocalls falsely saying they can vote on the day after Election Day if the lines are too long.

Marshall said such misinformation tactics surface election after election because it's not illegal in most states to deceive someone about the timing or place of an election, or to lie about a candidate's political affiliation. Most laws, he said, are more geared toward preventing voter intimidation and ensuring physical access to polling places. Those who do get caught in deception usually claim it was all a big misunderstanding.

"It's very difficult to stop," he said. "The tactics have evolved but the law hasn't."

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bookchic808 wrote:
that's how they won in 2000 and 2004 and probably in 2012.
on October 30,2012 | 09:31AM
WKAMA wrote:
Yep, they're at it again!!
on October 30,2012 | 11:39AM
dontbelieveinmyths wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on October 30,2012 | 09:32AM
Larry01 wrote:
Most likely because if those tactics are directed at the elderly, it's probably coming from the GOP/Tea Party/Birther side to take probable Obama votes away.
on October 30,2012 | 10:55AM
hapaguy wrote:
Yeah not all from Romney but most definitely from Reublican sources.
on October 30,2012 | 01:23PM
MariaBetty wrote:
The Supreme Court should reconsider their decision on Political Action Committees.
on October 30,2012 | 10:12AM
niimi wrote:
Romney will defeat Obama running away.
on October 30,2012 | 11:44AM
NotNasti wrote:
And now we know how Romney will do it.
on October 30,2012 | 11:58AM
false wrote:
It might not be a good idea to hold your breath. LOL
on October 30,2012 | 12:34PM
allie wrote:
Romney will stop at nothing to ruin America
on October 30,2012 | 12:35PM
serious wrote:
Are you in a vacuum? Look at what Obama's done to the USA. Look at his Senate speech when he said deficit spending showed a lack of leadership---that is the one thing I agree with him. We need adult supervision in the White House. Romney has a proven track record.
on October 30,2012 | 01:26PM
hapaguy wrote:
Romney was a one term governor and his record in Massachusetts was horrible. Thats why he's trailing in the polls in his homestate. And trailing badly i might add. One poll has Obama as a 32 point favorite in Massachusetts. Thats pretty bad when you can't even carry your home state. When Romney was Gov his state went from 36th to 47th in job creation. He lost over 40,000 manufacturing jobs. He raised taxes on the middle class and cut taxes on the wealthy. Massachusetts state spending increased every year he was Gov and he left a $1b deficit for the next Gov. All this during national economic growth! As for his private sector record, according to the Wall Street Journal (hardly a left leaning rag) while he as in charge of Bain, he invested or bought out 77 companies of which 17 went bankrupt! Romney has a "proven track record" all right. One of failure.....
on October 30,2012 | 02:02PM
Jonas wrote:
Good reply hapa. I seriously wonder how Romney supporters always say he has a proven track record. Too much Fox News, I suspect.
on October 31,2012 | 12:19AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Notice to Democrat voters: due to the problems caused by Hurricane Sandy, voting has been postponed until November 12th.
on October 30,2012 | 01:22PM
hapaguy wrote:
lol....thats typical Republican ploy. Wrong voting day in mailers sent to blcak voters in Ohio and to Latino voters in Arizona.....funny how that only happens to voters that lean democrat....
on October 30,2012 | 01:26PM
Anonymous wrote:
Joke all you want, fools! This is a very serious trend in our country that should not be allowed to stand, nor supported. Politics is already seen as a 'dirty business' and tactics like these only reinforce such stereotypes to a greater degree, causing division and derision instead of bringing people together and unifying them as one nation, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all!
on October 30,2012 | 01:41PM
NotNasti wrote:
So what should happen to people/organizations caught cheating? The infringement on a constitutional right should be treated seriously. Jail? Permanent loss of voting rights?
on October 30,2012 | 02:46PM
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