by Andy Brownfield
Outcry, national attention spurred removal of voter fraud displays
A Cincinnati outdoor advertising company announced Tuesday
that it will take down controversial billboards that opponents claim
are aimed at intimidating voters.
Norton Outdoor Advertising had been contracted to put up
about 30 billboards that read “Voter Fraud is a Felony!” The billboards
also listed the maximum penalty for voter fraud — up to 3 and a half years and a
Opponents of the billboards claim they were strategically
placed in predominantly low-income and black neighborhoods in Cincinnati
as a means to discourage those largely Democratic voters from going to
The billboards were funded by an anonymous “private family foundation.”
In a statement posted online, Norton Executive Vice
President Mike Norton said the displays would be taken down as soon as
possible. He wrote that the
foundation and Norton agreed after hearing criticism that the sentiment
surrounding the displays was contrary to their intended purpose.
The family foundation didn’t intend to make a political
statement, but rather make the public aware of voting regulations, he
“We look forward to helping to heal the divisiveness that has been an unfortunate result of this election year,” Norton wrote.
Norton had previously told CityBeat that the billboards were not targeted but distributed randomly throughout the city.
Several Cincinnati officials wrote to the company requesting the billboards be taken down.
ClearChannel Outdoor Advertising announced on Monday that it was removing similar billboards in Cleveland and Columbus.
The billboards throughout Ohio had garnered national criticism and media attention.
A rival outdoor advertising company is putting up 10 new billboards to rebut the voter fraud ones.
The new red, white and blue billboards will read “Hey Cincinnati, voting is a right not a crime!”
Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in an
emailed news release that he reached out to Lamar Advertising
Company to ask if they would donate the billboards throughout
“We should be encouraging folks to participate in our
democratic process, not trying to scare them,” Sittenfeld wrote. “I
salute Lamar’s generosity and their support in encouraging citizens to
raise their voice and not be scared away.”
by Andy Brownfield
Rep. Reece claims "voter fraud is illegal" ads are attempt at voter intimidation
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. “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 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
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.