Producer Jamil Smith contributed to this post.
Despite debates, deceptions, and divisions, Mitt Romney is still having a hard time catching up in Ohio. While this morning's new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll shows the Republican presidential nominee keeping it airtight in Florida and surging to a slim lead in Virginia, Ohio remains a stronghold of Obama support. The President leads by six points there, a bit of a slimmer lead than before, but still very strong -- especially since my fellow Buckeyes have been able to vote since October 2.
Another thing we're seeing in Ohio? The Republican Secretary of State taking a series of L's on his efforts to restrict early voting. He's to the point now where he's appealing to the Supreme Court to reverse a court ruling keeping the polls open all the way through Election Day, whereas he wants to bar people from voting on the last three days beforehand.
As Trymaine Lee noted in the Huffington Post, that action alone is confusing matters:
Local election officials said they don't know how to inform their poll workers or voters. Ministers have stalled their Souls to the Polls campaigns. And Husted has raised the ante in the latest round between the state's Democrats and Republicans over expanding or limiting voter access. "The problem is we have no clue what's going on," said Tim Burke, a Democrat and chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Elections in Cincinnati. "I am absolutely convinced that this is part of an overall strategy."
We don't know if a crop of alarmist billboards warning against committing voter fraud have erected in black and Latino neighborhoods around Cleveland, Ohio are a formal part of that strategy, but local politicians and civil-rights groups believe that's the goal of whoever is paying for them. According to a map created by Eric Fischer (see below the jump), there are currently 10 billboards standing, a majority of which are prominently featured at the corner major intersections. Clear Channel, who was paid to display the ads, has declined to disclose who paid for them.
The only indication of authorship exists in a corner in fine print: "Paid for by a private family foundation."
What is the incentive behind placing billboards in poor, heavily democratic neighborhoods of color? Their strategic placement and aggressive content certainly suggests so. A Cleveland city councilwoman, Phyllis Cleveland, voiced her protest in a video on the Cleveland Plain Dealer site (see above):
"When you have the words 'felony,' 'voter,' and 'fine' all the the same message, and by placing it where it is, the only message that you are intending to send is that this is a threat to you if you vote... It's just a blatant attempt to keep people in this community, particularly black people and poor people, from voting."
The Plain Dealer also reports that Washington-based voting advocacy group, The Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights, sent a letter this week to Clear Channel Outdoor's office in suburban Parma requesting they take down the signs.
The glut of voter-ID laws which could have disenfranchised as many as 21 million citizens have largely been struck down. But Ohio is a perhaps the swing state of swing states, the one upon which Romney's electoral hopes lie. With the Republican trailing in the state, and the Secretary of State doing everything but pulling a George Wallace in front of the polls, the rights of early voters in the state aren't served well by scary messages about a problem that never really existed.
See the aforementioned racial map of Cleveland, and the sites where the billboards are located. Below, you'll see a "PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton" report from Tuesday about these billboards -- and not just in Ohio.