A lot of Kentucky coal mining county voters think they might end up in jail if they vote in the November 4th midterms. Correction: A lot of Democratic Kentucky coal mining county voters think they might end up in jail if they vote in the November 4th midterms.
There’s a man to thank for deliberately instilling this fear: U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Criminally deceptive mailers went out in Eastern Kentucky (it went to voters in Boyd, Floyd, Johnson, Martin, Perry and Leslie counties*), and the official looking envelope says: “Election Violation Notice. You are at risk of acting on fraudulent information that has been targeted for citizens living in (insert) county… Facts related to a possible fraud being perpetrated on citizens across Kentucky.”
Then, the cherry of intimidation, a warning about the federal penalties for obstructing the mail. (Mitch McConnell’s false claims of association with a government agency have made the fact checker cranky, by the way.)
Several Kentucky voters who received the mailers spoke with PoliticusUSA on the grounds that I agree to not use their names out of further fear of political retribution. This is a horrible reflection of the inevitable result of this kind of intimidation and makes Grimes’ earlier point that voters are entitled to privacy.
I put out several requests for folks who received them to contact me, and not one person was a Republican. They all told me they were registered Democrats. This point might seem obvious, but it’s important as it goes to targeting.
They thought they were unable to vote:
My full name is **** ****. I live in the Ashland, KY area. My reaction was concern that I was somehow unable to vote. The paper was designed to seem as if a bureaucratic slip up occurred. I received one as did my mother’s husband. Both of us are registered democrats.
They felt intimidated and worry that many of the folks in the county targeted won’t understand that it’s a trick:
My name is **** ******* . I live in Eastern Kentucky ( coal country). I felt intimidated and angry after receiving the notice. The notice had a Frankfort Kentucky address and that’s the part that worried me …I’m extremely worried that senior citizens and uneducated people will not understand the notice. Yes I’m a Democrat. Unsure about other Dems.”
From Floyd county, via a phone interview, this woman thought she did something wrong and couldn’t vote:
“It was like a warning. I was like, what did I do wrong, do I not vote? And then my aunt was telling me – open it and read it. It came to me with my name and address, not box holder or resident. Are they going to be watching me when I vote?”
This kind of tactic is not new, particularly in the South (I say this as a recent former resident of a Southern red state where I watched African Americans get targeted just for voting, even though it was supposedly against the law). From police staged at polling places to stern looks and warnings of being watched, there are ways of letting folks know that voting will cost them (their job, their friends, their freedom).
As several of the targets explained to me, they already feel intimidated in coal country as registered Democrats. They don’t talk about politics and they don’t want people knowing how they feel about it because they are afraid. So having a mailer addressed to them that alerts them that they are specifically being watched is intimidating in and of itself.
It begs the question, if the mailer isn’t about voter intimidation, why is a mail statute printed on it threatening fines and jail time? It’s hard to come up with a legitimate purpose of McConnell’s deceptively official looking mailers other than voter intimidation and voter suppression of Democrats.
On the face of it, it appears that Senator McConnell may have committed two felonies with these flyers. This is why Secretary of State and his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes has asked for an investigation. Officials will not comment on whether or not there is an investigation at this point in time (standard operating procedure before an election).
The Hill reported, “Grimes’s campaign says they’ve received calls from voters in Eastern Kentucky concerned they may be breaking the law if they vote on Tuesday. They pointed to a local report out from Hazard, Ky., revealing the Perry County Clerk has gotten similar calls as further evidence the mailer could have an impact on voters on Election Day.”
These went out to enough people as to raise the concern of the Perry County Clerk and others, who contacted the local Kentucky media in an attempt to clear it up. McConnell’s Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, is also the current Secretary of State, and she filed an injunction to stop the mailers as well as requesting investigations into them.
Mitch McConnell doesn’t want Kentucky coal country to vote, unless they vote his way.
Mitch McConnell is using the flyer to try to knock down Democratic support for Alison Lundergan Grimes in coal country via intimidation and suppression in order to make up for what he fears she will do in urban areas. This isn’t legal, and that should matter. Mitch McConnell has violated one of our most basic, core freedoms, and he has frightened his own constituents into thinking that they can’t vote.
* Counties are being added as they are brought to our attention. Johnson and Martin were added after the publication of this article.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah has won two Telly Awards and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.