GOP “Poll Watchers” Target African- American Precincts

Civil rights and voter protection advocates have been keeping a close eye on Tea Party associated groups’ plans to mobilize a million “poll watchers” this Election Day. As we get closer to the election, reports that these groups are arming volunteers with misinformation and intimidating early voters are only confirming our suspicions.

Now, these ballot bullies are turning their sights to Pennsylvania, where voters are already disoriented and frustrated by the “soft rollout” of a controversial voter ID law. We looked at 59 precincts in Allegheny County, none of which have any history of voter fraud, that have been targeted by these GOP-linked “poll watchers.” What we found out is disheartening–these precincts are disproportionately African-American.

The targeted precincts contain only 3% of Allegheny County voters, but they contain nearly 20% of the county’s 111,000 African-American voters. These figures evoke our country’s shameful history of racially motivated voter suppression. SEIU’s General Counsel Nicole Berner put it this way:

“We have seen their list and it strongly suggests that the Pennsylvania Republican Party is coordinating with the Pittsburgh Tea Party to target African American voters for intimidation at the polls. The Pennsylvania Republican Party has serious questions to answer about where they are putting their poll watchers and why.”

Common Cause and its allies have asked the Department of Justice to investigate this as a civil rights violation. Our letter reads as follows:

Dear Assistant Attorney General Perez:

The undersigned civil rights and community organizations write to raise concerns about the likely targeting of African-American voters by the Republican Party and groups and individuals acting in concert with it in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Allegheny County is one of 51 jurisdictions that will be monitored by the Civil Rights Division of Department of Justice on Election Day 2012 as part of the Department’s efforts to enforce the Voting Rights Act, to prevent discrimination, and to the protect the rights of voters of color.

We have received information that strongly suggests the Republican Party, under the guise of combating alleged voter fraud, has assigned Election Day poll watchers disproportionately to majority African-American precincts in Allegheny County. We are in receipt of a partial list of targeted precincts that was distributed at a poll watcher training conducted by the Pittsburgh Tea Party Movement. The Pittsburgh Tea Party Movement conducted this training, on behalf of the Republican Party, as part of its program to combat alleged voter fraud in Allegheny County. We understand the Republican Party has targeted approximately 111, out of a total 1,319 precincts, in that county. The partial list, which is attached hereto as Exhibit A, includes 59 of the total 111 precincts targeted by the Republican Party. We are unaware of any history of voter fraud at any of these 59 locations. We are concerned that these locations are being targeted for impermissible, racially-motivated reasons.

A comparison of the 59 Republican Party targeted precincts to the other precincts in Allegheny County reveals that the targeted precincts disproportionately contain African-American voters. Specifically, the targeted precincts are over 79% African-American. By contrast, the nontargeted precincts contain, on average, less than 11% African-American registered voters. Moreover, although the targeted precincts include only 3% of the total number of voters in Allegheny County, they contain 18.5% of the registered African American voters. The vast majority of these precincts are among those with the mostly highly concentrated African- American populations in the County. A statistical analysis of the 59 Republican Party targeted precincts is attached hereto as Exhibit B.

On the basis of the above, the undersigned organizations are extremely concerned that the racial composition of the targeted precincts districts suggests that race may have been a factor in the decision of the Republican Party to target these 59 precincts in its voter fraud prevention program with the purpose or potential significant effect of deterring qualified African-American voters in Allegheny County from casting their ballots and thereby suppressing the minority vote. We call upon the Justice Department monitors to make every effort to ensure that voters at these targeted locations are able to cast their ballots freely and fairly on Election Day and to inquire of the Republican Party and the Pittsburgh Tea Party Movement as to the source of its list and the basis of the targeting.

Respectfully submitted,

Advancement Project
Common Cause
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Service Employees International Union
American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania
One Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Pittsburgh A. Philip Randolph Institute
Pittsburgh United

We hope the DOJ will treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves, but in the meantime, our 866-OUR-VOTE hotline will be taking your calls Election Day, making sure that anyone who needs help casting their ballot gets it, and documenting any voter intimidation or suppression that takes place.

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