Political campaigns have made unprecedented efforts to register new voters this year - but attempts have already been made to scare some of them away from the polls on Nov. 4.
A flyer has been distributed around Philadelphia universities and in low-income neighborhoods over the last month, incorrectly stating that voters with outstanding arrest warrants or unpaid traffic tickets might be arrested if they show up to cast a ballot.
The anonymous author of the fliers suggested that such voters would still be able to vote if they "turn themselves in, prior to voting, without legal penalty."
The flyers say the information came from an Obama supporter.
The flyers were first spotted on the campuses of Penn and Drexel on Sept. 22. Most have since been taken down.
Matthew Segal, executive director of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment, called the flyers "outrageous" and "a clear sign of malintent." He said he hopes school leaders are especially vigilant against further attempts at voter intimidation.
On Penn's campus, the flyers were posted near the 37th Street SEPTA station.
College junior Lauren Burdette, president of Penn Democrats, testified in front of Congress's Committee on House Administration last month that she thought the flyers were posted by the station to target Penn employees who take SEPTA to work.
"Given the fact that it's a letter, and not grammatically correct, I'd imagine most Penn and Drexel students would not take it that seriously," she said.
Burdette said she thinks the flyers were written by "someone who thought this was correct information, someone who believed he or she was doing the community a service by passing this along."
But according to Zack Stalberg, CEO of the Philadelphia political watchdog group Committee of 70, "it would be extremely odd for somebody to go to all this trouble if it wasn't an effort at voter suppression."
Sean Miller, president of Drexel's College Democrats, agreed that "whoever posted the flyers is obviously interested in suppressing the college and African American vote - the new voters who are excited about this election."
Miller doesn't think the flyers will discourage many students from voting.
Still, young and first-time voters are far less committed to voting in the first place, Stalberg said, because voting is a habit that becomes stronger the more it's practiced.
"It doesn't take much to suggest to somebody that it's a good idea to stay away from the polls if they're already not deeply committed anyway," he said.
During the 2004 election, flyers were posted around Penn's campus asserting that students might lose scholarships and drivers licenses if they voted.
Those flyers successfully discouraged some students from voting, Segal said.
College Republicans President and College junior Zac Byer said his group was unaware of the recently posted flyers.
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