WASHINGTON (AP) — Voter turnout is key in many races around the country, and so voter suppression tactics from people who think their candidate might benefit from lower turnout tend to crop up right before an election are likely.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is gathering reports on its website, has already fielded complaints during early voting of poll workers questioning voters' citizenship in Texas, police officers hanging around polls in Florida and robocalls in Georgia and Florida urging voters to "Do what you did in 2010, stay at home," said Barbara Arnwine, the group's president.
These tactics are rarely effective and often backfire, said Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law. For example, he said, spreading the word in heavily Democratic neighborhoods that the election would be held the next day "is not likely to cause people to vote on the wrong day but sure is something that gets people upset."
To avoid being tricked, voters should check their voting eligibility, make sure they have proper identification if their states require it and check their precinct location and hours in advance, Arnwine said.
Five common voter suppression tactics that experts look for:
ELECTION DATE CHANGE
Emails, robocalls or paper flyers placed in mailboxes or on car windshields telling voters that one political party votes on one day, and everyone else on another, are simply not true. After early voting and absentee voting periods close, the only day to vote is Election Day, which falls this year on Nov. 4.
In the past, billboards with ominous messages have appeared in neighborhoods, "observers" have threatened to challenge the eligibility of certain voters or employers have told workers that voting a certain way could cost them their jobs. All are scare tactics.
Polling places do not have access to voters' criminal records. Anything that says you can be arrested for showing up to vote if you have unpaid parking tickets, outstanding arrest warrants or a criminal record is untrue, activists say.
There are only three states where felony convictions can lead to a permanent loss of voting rights: Kentucky, Florida and Iowa, according to Project Vote. Everywhere else, former criminals can eventually get their voting rights restored, so check your state's laws. And all states require conviction, so ongoing cases have no effect on the right to cast a ballot.
CHANGE OF POLLING LOCATION, HOURS
Polling places are assigned at the time of voter registration, and those locations are the only places voters can cast an in-person ballot on Election Day. Last-minute telephone calls, emails or paper flyers that purport to tell voters of a change in polling places and voting times are more likely an attempt to frustrate voters into going home without voting.
"DO NOT VOTE" MESSAGES
Some sides try to depress voting by telling the electorate that polls show a certain race is already over, or that one candidate or the other is so far ahead that one more vote won't matter. The truth is, every vote counts — as shown by many close elections in the past.
Follow Jesse J. Holland on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jessejholland
Federal Voter's Guide: a href='http://www.eac.gov/assets/1/Documents/Voter'sGuide_508.pdf'http://www.eac.gov/assets/1/Documents/Voter'sGuide_508.pdf/a
State election sites for polling places and voting hours: http://1.usa.gov/1nSnSQ4
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: http://www.866ourvote.org/