A Cincinnati-area state representative is decrying billboards throughout Ohio whose aim, she says, is voter intimidation.
Democratic Rep. Alicia Reece held a news conference Oct. 15 in front of a billboard that read, “Voter Fraud is a Felony!”
The billboards were paid for “by a private family foundation,” but Reece claims the sponsors are essentially anonymous and the billboards are strategically placed in low-income and black neighborhoods.
“It’s obvious that the billboards are designed to intimidate voters and leave some wondering if merely voting is now a crime,” said Reece. “We are asking the Outdoor Advertising Association of Ohio to work with the anonymous sponsors of the billboards to have them removed immediately.”
Mike Norton with Norton Outdoor Advertising — the company on whose billboards the ads appear — said there are 30 such signs in the Greater Cincinnati area. He said the sponsor, who wished to remain anonymous, didn’t ask for any demographic targeting and the ads appear in all neighborhoods with open space.
“Our company’s stand on political advertising is we do our very best to make sure it’s accurate and it’s not an attack ad,” Norton said. “This seemed to fall well within the bounds of reason on both of those benchmarks.”
The billboards are not illegal, and they are considered Constitutionally protected speech.
The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School issued a policy paper finding that cases of fraud by individual voters are rare; the 2004 presidential election saw a voter fraud rate of 0.00004 percent.
Cincinnati isn’t the only city to see such billboards. They have also made appearances in Cleveland, Columbus and southeast Wisconsin.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the billboards there are owned by Clear Channel Outdoor. A company spokesperson told the newspaper that Clear Channel’s policy is usually to identify who sponsors a political ad, but in this case a salesperson made a mistake.