Civil and voting rights groups commended Clear Channel Corporation for agreeing to take down a number of billboards placed in predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods in Cleveland, Columbus, and Milwaukee. The groups had mounted a campaign over the past week to persuade Clear Channel to take down the billboards, which warned of criminal penalties for voter fraud and were designed to stigmatize and intimidate minority voters. The billboards were anonymously financed.
"This is an undeniable victory for those of us who care about protecting the right to vote," said Catherine Turcer of Ohio Common Cause. "Allowing people to intimidate voters and interfere with voting is un-American. Now it's time for Norton Outdoor to follow Clear Channel's lead and take down the anonymously funded billboards as well."
Norton Outdoor is the company that put up the billboards in the Cincinnati area. The Clear Channel billboards were in the Milwaukee, Columbus, and Cleveland markets.
According to Clear Channel's statement to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the company finally agreed to take down the billboards because they violated their own disclosure policy and allowed the posters to go up with no disclaimer as to who had funded them. It is not yet known as to whether Norton Outdoor will be taking their billboards down as well.
"This is an inspiring victory for the communities that fought back against these billboards," said Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "Free speech is a right of all Americans, and citizens used their voice to organize and oppose this targeted suppression tactic. Clear Channel did the right thing by responding to the outcry."
"Clear Channel's decision to take down the intimidating billboards is a victory for free, fair and accessible elections," added Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Demos. "Norton Outdoor should follow suit and stop promoting fear tactics that discourage eligible Americans from exercising their right to vote."
Common Cause, Demos and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights are part of the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition, which last week started a campaign to counter the anonymously-financed billboards with their own pro-voting messages. One billboard urges residents to "Stand Up and Have Your Say – VOTE." A second set of billboards reminds voters that "When We Vote, We Are All Equal." The billboards also include the coalition's voter hotline number, 1-866-OUR-VOTE, which provides voter information and answers to questions on voter registration and ID requirements and election procedures. The coalition will also have field programs on Election Day at polling places across the country.
Election Protection supports voters through the national Election Protection Hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE, a voter information hotline staffed by trained volunteers. This year, Election Protection also launched the Election Protection Smartphone App, which any voter can use to check their registration status, look up their polling place, or access voter education materials. Voters can download the Election Protection Smartphone App by texting "OurVote" to 90975. Voters can also visit www.866OurVote.org, which contains state-specific election and voting information.