With just weeks to go before the presidential election, voter intimidation has reared its ugly head.
An anonymous flier circulating in African-American neighborhoods in North and West Philadelphia states that voters who are facing outstanding arrest warrants or who have unpaid traffic tickets may be arrested at the polls on Election Day.
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison, who learned of the flier last week, said that the message is completely false.
"The only thing that police officers are going to do that we'll be encouraging that day is that they'll be exercising their own individual right to vote," Gillison said.
He plans to put up statements on the city and police Web sites to let citizens know that the handouts are false. He said that he also will record a public-service announcement for broadcast.
Gillison referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney's Office and the district attorney.
"We are not going to stand for any intimidation of voters," Gillison said. "Not in this city."
He said that he did not know who was behind the fliers, which appear to be targeted at supporters of Democratic candidate Barack Obama.
But telling people to beware of voting if they have outstanding warrants is an old trick. In Maryland's 2002 gubernatorial election, anonymous fliers in African-American communities warned people to pay parking tickets and resolve outstanding warrants before heading to the polls.
"It seems to be clearly aimed at lower-income voters that might have had some problems in the past and clearly aimed at discouraging people from voting," said Zack Stalberg, who heads the political-watchdog group Committee of Seventy.
Stalberg said that he feared that there could be more fliers to come.
"I'm a little surprised it appeared this far before Election Day," he said. "It's another indication of how dirty this election might become."
Local NAACP President Jerry Mondesire said that he was aware of the flier and would be watching for other intimidation efforts, but would wait until closer to Election Day to reach out to the public.
"We probably will do something closer to the election," he said. "People tend not to pay attention until two weeks out."
Mondesire said that he didn't know who was circulating the fliers, but added, "I do know one thing for sure: They're not Democrats." *