October 29, 2008 -- With less than a week to go before voters are expected to head to the polls in record numbers, a bogus flyer directing Republicans to vote Nov. 4 and Democrats to vote Nov. 5 has surfaced in Virginia. The state's Board of Elections said the fake has been distributed in Hampton, Newport News, Virginia Beach and Norfolk, sounding louder alarms of voter fraud and intimidation across the nation.
"These tactics tend to escalate in the days before the election," said Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice, adding there is concern that "we'll see more attempts like this."
She said these types of misleading flyers appear each election year in an effort to suppress votes. But Weiser, who directs the center's work on voting rights and elections, explained that other tactics are being deployed too, including messages that falsely tell voters that law enforcement or prosecutors will be monitoring polling places.
"We tend to see this in battleground states, but they're not exclusive there," said Weiser of the tactics that are emerging. "They can happen anywhere."
It is illegal to intentionally mislead voters about where an election is being held or when voting polls are open, and federal law requires that the election be held on the same day.
The Virginia flyer was printed with the state's logos so that it appeared to be on official letterhead, complete with a state seal and contact information.
"We're working hand in hand with the state police…to track down these allegations of voter intimidation and fraud," said a spokesperson for the Virginia State Board of Elections. The state believes one person was passing the flyer out in the different cities but has no idea how many made it to the hands of voters.
Dated Oct. 24, the flyer blames the change in voting times on "larger than expected voted turnout" and said an "emergency session of the General Assembly has adopted the following emergency regulations to ease the load on local electorial (sic) precincts and ensure a fair electoral process."
But voting rights expert Charles Zelden says voters should be on high alert for these and other types of blatant voter fraud which, he said, should immediately raise red flags.
"This is people breaking the law," said Zelden. "This is people doing something that if they get caught, they've committed a felony."
Zelden, who details problems in the voting and election systems in the book "Bush v. Gore: Exposing the Hidden Crisis in American Democracy," said the key to this election is going to be turnout and, because of that, people need to stand up for their right to vote.
"This is our one chance as citizens to have a real say in the policy choices of the nation," said Zelden.
He suggests that voters cast their vote early if the option is available so that if there is a problem, there are days to fix it instead of hours. But if a problem does arise closer to Election Day or a tactic similar to the Virginia flyer pops up, Zelden recommends contacting a voting rights watchdog group or government official to separate fact from fiction.
"For 98 to 99 percent of us, it's not going to be a problem," Zelden said. "But if the vote's only one or two percent apart from each other, that one or two percent determines who wins and loses. That one or two percent can make the difference between victory or defeat."