During the days of Jim Crow laws, voter intimidation was a very real fact of life for African-American voters, especially in Southern states, where exercising Constitutional rights could and often did mean lethal retaliation.
In Philadelphia in 2012, however, there were no complaints of voter intimidation at all, according to Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office. She said that a rumor about the so-called New Black Panther Party having a presence at a polling location was a total fabrication.
“There were none, none at all, no complaints from any polling locations in the city,” Jamerson said. “As a citizen, a person is allowed to be at the polls as long as they’re not engaged in any unlawful behavior. As for the news reports regarding the New Black Panther Party, they were totally without credence. All of that started in the 2008 presidential election, when Fox News did a story about them at a polling location and it blew up. Our office got inundated with calls at the time, but here’s the thing – none of them were local complaints. People were calling from Georgia and D.C. – places way out of state. This time there was one lone guy that Fox News happened to find, and he wasn’t doing anything. The story about the New Black Panthers intimidating voters was all a fabrication by Fox News. Again, we took no calls of complaints about voter intimidation in Philadelphia at all.”
The Committee of Seventy, which had about 800 trained volunteers around the city and surrounding counties monitoring the polls, received a report that the group had shown up at 11th and Germantown Avenue – a report that was without credence. Fox News ran a picture of a single member of the group who turned out to be a poll watcher at 1221 Fairmount Ave., in the city’s 14th Ward.
At one point Republican election inspectors were being denied access to different locations. Judge John M. Younge issued a court order allowing all certified minority inspectors into Philadelphia polling places, and deputies from the sheriff’s department were dispatched to enforce the order. The Committee of Seventy handled a report of alleged electioneering inside some polls in Conshohocken. And there were rumors floating around that if a person voted straight Democratic, a choice for Barack Obama would not be registered. That rumor, too, was totally false.
“We understand that there may be some confusion this year with the new voter ID law that is now in place, and we want to make sure that no one is discouraged about going to the polls on Tuesday because of that confusion,” said District Attorney Seth Williams on Election Day. “We always want to encourage all registered voters in the city to get out and exercise the privilege of casting their votes, but that being said, we want to stress that we will go after any criminal activity and prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law.”
Zack Stalberg, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, also confirmed there were no credible reports or complaints of voter intimidation. He said this rarely happens during a presidential election.
“It’s something we see more of during local elections, where the candidates have much more at stake,” Stalberg said. “We heard very little – although we got some reports of body language that seemed threatening to some people – but nothing overt. We took in several thousand calls, but you’d be hard-pressed to say there were complaints of voter intimidation. Regarding the New Black Panthers, we had people out twice looking for that guy and didn’t find him. There were reports that he was handing out literature, but he was well behaved.”
Stalberg said most of the election issues were related to registration problems, where people’s names had fallen off the books, something that was discussed at the City commissioners’ meeting Wednesday morning.
“There was some confusion over voter ID, but not so much in the city, where I think most people understood it. Most of the questions came from outside the city, and the farther outside the city, the more questions we handled,” Stalberg said.