Several organizations are protesting billboards in Milwaukee that discourage voters from committing voter fraud saying they are attempting to suppress the minority vote.
The groups, including the League of Young Voters, convened Tuesday to protest the billboards, which say “Voter fraud is a felony,” and depict three people behind bars, one an African-American man. The billboards also state the penalty for committing voter fraud: Three years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Critics of the advertisements have said they are an effort to suppress the votes of certain groups, including minorities and young voters.
The group that purchased the billboards chose to remain anonymous, but Clear Channel Outdoor, the company that owns the billboards, disclosed the purchaser is a private family foundation in the Milwaukee area.
According to Andrew Welhouse, a spokesperson for the state GOP, the Republican party was not involved in erecting the billboards.
However, according to Mark Rausch, vice president of Real Estate and Public Affairs for Clear Channel in Pewaukee, the company had no knowledge of the controversy surrounding the ads until the protest Tuesday.
“I’m not sure where they’re coming from or their rationale, but if they were truly concerned about the billboards themselves and trying to open a dialogue with our company, you would think they would have tried to contact our company first,” Rausch said.
According to Rausch the billboards were part of a campaign throughout Wisconsin that included 50 posters that ran for a month starting on Sept. 13.
The anonymous group also purchased 25 posters that will run from Oct. 4 through Election Day.
Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, said while falsified voter registration is common, like the much publicized registration records of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, earlier this year, actual fraudulent voting has not been a huge problem in the state of Wisconsin.
“The number of ballots for which there is any hard evidence of fraud is tiny, really tiny, by any standard,” Franklin said.
Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Mike McCabe said he sees the advertisements as simply an effort to distract voters.
“This is a diversionary tactic,” McCabe said. “It’s trying to shift the public’s attention away from issues relating to our election that really matter to something extraneous.”
Others see the billboards as a clear intimidation tactic.
Andrea Kaminski, spokesperson for the Wisconsin League of Women Voters, expressed her disbelief that an organization would want to pay for advertisements regarding an issue that occurs so rarely.
“The only thing that I can come up with is that they’re trying to intimidate people from voting, they’re trying to intimidate eligible voters,” Kaminski said. “That itself is a crime.”
Although it is not clear how the billboards will impact voter turnout, Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, said the billboards may mobilize those who reject these tactics to get out and vote.
Ross, who has previously criticized the billboards, said that action should be taken to stop this intimidation.
“I think they should come down immediately, but it will be up to Clear Channel to determine if they’re going to allow themselves to be used by this voter suppression effort,” Ross said.