DeErricka Green | Staff Writer

A billboard that has been spotted in African American, Hispanic and low income neighborhoods of Cleveland, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, as well as parts of Pennsylvania reads, “Voter fraud is a felony! Up to 3 1/2 yrs and $10,000 fine.”

Voter fraud is essentially as rare as being struck by lightning, or witnessing a UFO, but voter suppression is everywhere during this election- from threatening Obama-supporters with unemployment, to the disposal of voter registration forms and representatives only registering Republicans to vote. It seems we can now add billboards to this list.

Texas mass media company Clear Channel, owns this and other billboards, over half of which have been seen in predominantly minority neighborhoods. The company renounces the message, claiming they are not responsible for the language. In fine print near the bottom, it states that the billboards were anonymously funded “by a private family foundation.”

The, seemingly, strategic placement of these ads, along with their aggressive language has stirred protest and commentary. City councilwoman, Phyllis Cleveland, voiced her disapproval in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“When you have the words ‘felony,’ ‘voter,’ and ‘fine’ all 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,” she remarked. “It’s just a blatant attempt to keep people in this community, particularly black people and poor people, from voting.”

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton has also weighed in on this event on his MSNBC talk show PoliticsNation, saying, “Voter fraud barely exists in these states. In Wisconsin, 23 cases [of voter fraud] out of 11 million votes cast have been reported since 2005. In Ohio, only five cases out of 14 million votes casts have been reported since 2004. We know what they’re up to, and we won’t let them.”

What is the incentive behind placing billboards in low income, historically democratic neighborhoods of color? Given, “voter fraud” sounds like a menacing threat; it only appears this way to those uninformed of their voting rights. Not only have the excess of voter-ID laws which could have disenfranchised millions of citizens mainly been struck down, evidence shows that is voter fraud rare, it is extremely difficult to commit.

Therefore, though these ads seem a peculiar way of spending election money, they work as a perfect cover-up for the GOP’s attempts at voter suppression.

Whatever “private family foundation” paid for these billboards knew his or her audience, and is all too happy to disenfranchise it. If the citizens of these neighborhoods do not realize how much of a difference they can make on Election Day, these billboards make it quite clear that someone in a “private family foundation” does.

The areas in which these advertisements are found not only seem to target minority neighborhoods, they are specifically found in swing states: Wisconsin, Ohio, and the border area between Pennsylvania and Ohio.

These areas are, arguably, the most crucial to the election because no single party has overwhelming support in securing Electoral College votes.

Moreover, Ohio is of course the swing state of swing states, the one upon which Romney’s hopes of victory essentially lie.

In 2008, President Obama won Ohio by just over 200,000 votes. He won the area that includes Cleveland by nearly 250,000 votes. His victory in Ohio may have been the most politically significant, given that no Republican has ever won the Electoral College without claiming the Buckeye State. It’s been slated that Ohio is, by far, the most likely state to swing this year’s election.

This fact on its own might suggest a motivation behind the billboards, and it’s no surprise. One effort at suppression- an attempt to close early voting in Ohio the weekend before election- was shut down by the Supreme Court this week.

Generally, when someone is unwilli ng to put their real name on their work that tells you all you need to know about their motives. It would appear that some conservatives will go as low as to blatantly intimidate voters with misinformation, and then cannot even admit it openly.

For this “private family foundation,” in the words of Al Sharpton, we say we know what you’re up to, and we won’t let you.