When Phyllis Cleveland first saw the billboard on East 35th Street warning of prison time and a $10,000 fine for voter fraud, the city councilwoman concluded it had one purpose: to intimidate the constituents of her predominantly low-income ward in Cleveland, Ohio. “It just hit me in the gut when I saw it,” said Cleveland, who helped capture the attention of a coalition of civil rights groups that pressured Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings (CCO) Inc. to remove the billboards this week.
After two years of debates in state legislatures and the courts over new balloting laws, the fight over access to the voting booth has moved to the street level in such states as Ohio, Florida and Virginia with both sides investing millions of dollars in mobilizing thousands of lawyers and volunteers to pinpoint and counter mischief.
“There is a get-out-the-lawyer effort that both sides put together well before the election, trying to have attorneys in place in key precincts all over the battleground states,” Nathan L. Gonzales, the deputy editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, said in an interview. “On Election Day, there are really only two guarantees: Someone will win and someone will sue.”