Allegations of Voter Intimidation in North Philly

Volunteers being trained on canvassing at North Philly for Obama Office

Volunteers being trained on canvassing at North Philly for Obama Office

Posted at 4:04 p.m. — Voter intimidation characterized the heated presidential campaigns in the swing state of Philadelphia last weekend, leaving residents confused about the election.

North Philadelphia was one of the target areas, as opposing camps used all manner of tricks to discredit their opponents and portray their candidates in favorable light.

According to residents of North Van Pelt and Beechwood, in ward 16, North Philadelphia, voter intimidation had increased in the past two weeks.

Anthony Williams, 40, resident of Van Pelt said, some individuals have been telling residents they will not be allowed to vote, if they had not received their voter registration come the Election Day.

“My friends have been told by some individuals that they will not be allowed to vote if they shall have not received their voters card via mail,” said Williams.

Williams, however, said he had not met the individuals spreading the rumors, but feared that he might be denied his right to vote.

He said messages were even being left on voicemails, of people’s house telephones.

Gregory Jackson, 50, a resident of Ward 16, said he recently received a call from unknown people telling him not to bother casting his ballot if he had not received his voter card from the relevant authorities by last week.

“The man said he out to tell us the hidden truth which we have not been told about the election. I was confused and did not know what to believe anymore. I even considered not voting on that day,” Jackson added.

Voter intimidation – the tactic of confusing voters about their ability to vote – is a classic dirty trick applied by politicians in closely hotly contested elections worldwide.

Pennsylvania, with its meaty prize of 21 electoral votes, and up for grabs, seems to be a perfect ground for dirty tricks as opposing camps leave nothing to chance to ensure their candidate wins the election. In 2004, John Kerry closely won the popular vote garnering 2.9 million or 50.1 percent to George W. Bush’s 2.8 million or 48.4 percent, in a hotly contested election. The contributing factor to Kerry’s victory was the win registered in the populated cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Erie.

The rumors, Williams said, had been “innocently” picked up by some of the residents, who took them as ‘gospel truth’, spreading them further.

“They (opponents) are out to spoil for Obama and we’re not going to let that happen this time round. It is the chance for a black person to be president of the United States,” he added.

Voter regulations, stipulate that anyone who is registered to vote can do so if he or she produces a photo ID.

The information about voter intimidation, reached the North Philly for Obama campaign office, situated on 1221 North Broad Street, last weekend, which immediately mobilized volunteers to counter it.

“(Our opponents) are applying dirty tricks and misinforming potential voters about our candidates and that must be countered, ” Gregory Young, one of the volunteers at the office told a group of youths, ready to be dispatched to counter voter intimidation in the two areas.

North Van Pelt and North Beechwood, are predominantly inhabited by African Americans. Here, Obama is revered.

Obama leads the Republican nominee Sen. John McCain by double-digits in Philadelphia, according to recent polls, yet still, anxiety in the Obama camp is high. The campaign team fears voter intimation might result in a lower voter turnout.

“If we do not act, voters might take the message as true and even decide to stay at home rather than vote and we do not want that to happen,” Young told the volunteers .

Zach Friend, the press secretary for Obama/Biden campaign team, said Pennsylvania being a swing state, every vote was worth fighting for.

“There is no question that Pennsylvania is a significant battleground state. We believe our ground game, including our 81 offices in the state and 17 in the city of Philadelphia, will help deliver us a victory on Election Day,” Friend said.

He added that door-to-door campaign was critical if their candidate was to win the election and voter intimidation challenged.

Friend expected the presidential race to be extremely close, and called Pennsylvania “crucial.”

According to the press secretary, there are thousands of volunteers canvassing throughout the state – not just in Philadelphia and its suburbs.

“Through our significant voter outreach effort, and our earlier registration efforts, we are confident we can reach voters that have never been reached by previous Democratic presidential campaigns,” Friend said.

In the next few days, Friend said, the campaign team will concentrate on the grassroots strategy that focuses on neighborhood contacts.

“The best way to counter the McCain top-down strategy is through this effort to connect with voters in their communities – we have over four times the number of offices that McCain/Republican National Committee have in the state,” he added.

Back at the North Philly office, Young and his colleagues walked the volunteers through the counter strategy – a door-to-door campaign – “to set the records straight about voter registration cards.”

Pam Perkins, a self-described diehard Democrat with vast experience in canvassing, led one of the volunteer groups.

Apart from her map and a list of addresses of residents living in North Van Pelt and North Beechwood, Perkins, a Columbia University graduate, also carried Pro-Obama pamphlets for distribution.

The group embarked on a door-to-door campaign, distributing pamphlets and urging voters not to be misled by the McCain camp or any other team.

Perkins, a psychologist by profession, told Williams and Jackson, in North Van Pelt, not to be misled, saying they could still vote, so long as they had a legal photo ID .

However, Perkins, who mastered the art of canvassing in Philadelphia when she worked for the John Kerry campaign four years ago, convinced Jackson and Williams, to vote on November 4th.

“I am sure you don’t want another four years of Republicans in White House. You must tell all your friends to come out and vote on Nov. 4,” she said.

Voter registration card, is not the only the concern among residents. They also told the volunteers that rumors about people being barred from voting for wearing or carrying pro-Obama items to the polling station, had left them with many questions rather than answers.

James Brown, a 40-year-old bus driver, said he heard friends talk about the issue and some are already considering remaining at home.

“They don’t want any trouble and some of them think the election might be messed up to prevent Obama from becoming president. I tell them there is nothing wrong wearing the T-shirt,” said Brown.

According to Young and Perkins, those wearing T-shirts bearing Obama’s portrait will not be barred from voting, “but should be ready to remove them or cover them if instructed by election officials”.

Officials and volunteers at the North Philly Office accused the McCain camp of being behind the voter intimidation tactics.

“This is all from the McCain camp that wants to disenfranchise these poor people who are more enthusiastic about voting than ever before,” Perkins said.
However, the team could not back their accusations with concrete proof.

— BY JEFF OTIENO

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