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 Monday morning 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 in a news release that the sponsors are essentially anonymous and the billboards are being strategically placed in low-income and black neighborhoods.
“We are asking the Outdoor Advertising Association of Ohio to work with the anonymous sponsors of the billboards to have them removed immediately,” Reece wrote in a statement.
“It’s obvious that the billboards are designed to intimidate voters and leave some wondering if merely voting is now a crime.”
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 didn’t ask for any demographic targeting and the ads are appearing in all neighborhoods wherever there was open space.
Norton said the sponsor wished to remain anonymous and he isn’t at liberty to give out its name.
As for the anonymity of the ads sponsor, “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.
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 extremely rare.
The center found that in 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 and Columbus, as well as southeast Wisconsin.
According to the Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, the billboards there are owned by Clear Channel Outdoor. A company spokesman 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.