Billboard in Cleveland Draws Fire for Intimidating Black Voters

A group in Cleveland called the “Private Family Foundation” has installed a billboard warning that “Voter fraud is a felony!” directly across the street from predominantly black housing projects and a community college, angering local residents and politicians who feel it is a clear case of voter intimidation.

While there are virtually no documented cases of voter fraud committed by black voters anywhere in the U.S., Republicans this year have passed restrictive voter laws that they claim are aimed at stopping what they view as widespread voter fraud.

Cleveland City Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland, who took the photo displayed, told that the sign faces Arbor Park Village, a subsidized housing development of more than 600 units, and is within a few blocks of three public housing estates and down the street from Cuyahoga Community College Metro Campus.

“This is blatant voter intimidation,” Councilwoman Cleveland said. “A direct attack in the heart of African American community meant to scare people and keep them from exercising their right to vote.”

The Washington Post reported in August that News21, a national investigative reporting project based at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, reviewed 2,068 reported fraud cases since 2000 and found just 10 incidents in which in-person voter impersonation occurred. The project noted that with 146 million registered voters, the results represented about one case of fraud for every 15 million prospective voters. The report was based on a national public-records search in all 50 states.

The Republican legislature in Ohio has been particularly aggressive about changing the laws, clearly seeking to limit Democratic turnout and turnout for students. In Ohio, Franklin County Republican Party Chairman Doug Preisse has actually been quoted saying, ” I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.”

Republicans in the Ohio legislature eliminated early voting hours favored by African American voters and tried to shut down early voting on the Sunday before election day, which would stop hundreds of black churches from bringing their congregations to the polls right after Sunday services.

It is not clear who is behind the “Private Family Foundation,” but the sign is owned by Clear Channel, which has displayed similar content in the past, such as on a billboard in Milwaukee in 2010 that elicited protests from the community.

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