National Election Protection Hotline Receives Calls from Alabama Voters Reporting Voter Intimidation and Mass Voter Confusion Tacticsby Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law December 13, 2017
Hotline Led by Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Fielded Calls from Voters during Pivotal Alabama Senate Race
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Recently, Alabama voters went to the polls for a pivotal special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by AG Jeff Sessions. Election Protection, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, provided live assistance to hundreds of Alabama voters through its 866-OUR-VOTE hotline. Voters throughout the state reported various complaints, some of which impacted individual voters and some that reflected systemic issues. Many voters also called with questions or sought assistance with voting. Since 2001, Election Protection has been the go-to-source for voters seeking assistance with navigating the voting process. The volume of calls into the hotline today, coupled with reports of long lines at polling sites in some parts of Birmingham and other areas, suggested an increase in voter turnout relative to comparable election periods from years prior in Alabama
The Lawyers’ Committee leads the Election Protection program, the nation’s largest non-partisan voter protection effort, anchored by the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline.
“By way of our Election Protection hotline, we received hundreds of calls from voters across the state of Alabama that make clear that much work remains to be done to improve access to the ballot box,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We received reports from voters across the state who requested absentee ballots that did not arrive prior to Election Day, complaints regarding text messages that falsely indicated that voters’ assigned polling places had changed, and information regarding voters who were placed in inactive status and turned away or required to cast a provisional ballot contrary to law. In many of these instances, we were able to provide accurate information to voters to help pull them from the brink of disenfranchisement and ensure that they were able to successfully participate. In addition, we received reports regarding a hostile precinct chief in Ramer, Alabama and other information that suggests poll workers, in some places, used the state’s photo id requirement as a tool to badger and intimidate some voters.”
Clarke observed, “Alabama is the birthplace of the Voting Rights Act. While today we focused on ensuring that all voters were able to have their voices heard, tomorrow we turn to work that will help ensure that all voters enjoy equal access to the polls regardless of race.”
The Lawyers’ Committee led-effort investigated reports of voter intimidation, including text messages imparting false information to voters of Jefferson County regarding their polling places – relaying the false message that their polling site had been changed. Voters in multiple jurisdictions across the state reported that they never received their absentee ballot from their respective counties.
Some voters also reported confusion after the Alabama state elections website identified voters as “inactive”. Under certain circumstances, the state may place voters in “inactive” status if they do not respond to the Alabama Secretary of State’s National Voter Registration mailer confirming their residence. However, some voters who were placed on the state’s inactive list were turned away from polling sites despite having the right to fill out an update form which would re-establish their active status and allow them to cast a “regular” ballot.
The Election Protection Hotline fielded calls reporting general confusion over Alabama’s straight-ticket voting creating situations in which voters indicated their party on the ballot and also cast a vote for a candidate from a different party. Some election officials indicated that they would only focus on the voter’s candidate selection, in these circumstances. Some callers also reported instances of polling sites requiring voters to vote on one machine for the statewide Senate race and another machine for local races.
Throughout the day, voters reported and flagged social media accounts intentionally spreading erroneous information to users regarding the voting process over platforms such as Twitter. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law continued to identify these messages on social media throughout Election night. The Lawyers’ Committee urges these social media platforms to immediately strengthen their efforts to filter propaganda and posts that impart information concerning voting.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.