Billboards reading “Voter Fraud is a Felony” an anonymous donor funded have gained attention in Milwaukee and prompted some to call them an exposition of “voter suppression.”
Clear Channel Outdoor advertising received the money for the advertisements from a “private family donation.” There are more than 20 billboards, and they have received most attention in minority and low-income neighborhoods, according to a statement from United Wisconsin.
Some are claiming the billboards were deliberately placed in these neighborhoods to discourage these people from voting, United Wisconsin Political Director Erik Kirkstein said.
“These billboards – placed almost exclusively in minority and low-income neighborhoods – are a clear attempt by an anonymous individual or organization to invoke fear and suppress the vote among residents of these communities,” Kirkstein said in an email to The Badger Herald. “With all of the confusion caused by unconstitutional voter ID laws passed by Gov. (Scott) Walker and his cronies in the state Legislature, people are already unsure of what proof of residency is acceptable and more. These billboards add fear to that confusion.”
Mike Mikalsen, spokesperson for Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said anyone who thinks these billboards are a form of voter suppression is “ludicrous.”
Mikalsen said he does not understand how those billboards could stop people from voting.
“Pointing out to the public that certain actions can be a crime is no different than all the public service announcements, advertisements, etc. that the government and non-profit organizations do every day to remind the public that certain actions, such as drunk driving and sexual assault, are crimes,” Mikalsen said.
Mike Wilder, director of the African-American Voter Engagement Table, said in an email to The Badger Herald the billboards are setting the work of organizations such as the African-American Roundtable back in encouraging minorities to vote.
Mikalsen said the positives of the billboards significantly outweigh the negatives.
He stressed voter fraud has been a problem in the past eight-to-10 years, and the billboards are meant to educate people on the crime, making them aware certain actions are prohibited.
“The only negative is the race card that is always thrown out by the Democrats on this issue, because it is all they have,” Mikalsen said. “It is a simple fact that voter fraud is a crime. One has to wonder why Democrats are constantly opposed to any effort to secure the voting process. It raises questions about what their motives are.”
Wilder said he agreed with Kirkstein the billboards serve no positive, legitimate function.
“The negatives are that they serve the purpose of attempting to shrink the electorate,” Wilder said. “Voter suppression threatens the very foundation of our great democracy.”
Wilder added the billboards provide no helpful tips to voters, such as a website to check or phone number to call and check if they are eligible. Furthermore, Wilder pointed out Clear Channel violated its own advertising policies in allowing the group that funded the billboard to remain anonymous.
Kirkstein said she disagreed with the anonymity of the billboards as well as the content.
“The individual or organization responsible for the billboards is acting under the cloak of anonymity,” Kirkstein said. ”Certainly, this leaves us wondering what they have to hide.”