Texas City resident Patricia Washington had the right response to an intimidating robocall meant to keep her from voting — she got mad and resolved to exercise her sacrosanct right and duty as a U.S. citizen to cast a ballot.
It’s clear that obscure forces are at work even in Galveston County with misinformation, disinformation and intimidation campaigns meant to suppress voter turnout.
Clear also is that the best counter for those decidedly low, rotten and un-American efforts is to turn whatever emotion they inspire into motivation to go vote.
Efforts to blunt voter turnout are vile. Every American should denounce them and be outraged by them, but also see them for what they are — expressions of fear in the hearts of their sponsors — fear of the people, fear of democracy.
Those of us who get worked up about these sorts of un-American activities might find some release in this exercise: If you haven’t voted, go vote. Take that cotton swab poll workers are issuing for this pandemic election and imagine each time you cast a vote jamming it up one nostril of the person you think is behind the tricks.
Some of the techniques being used to confuse and intimidate voters are relatively new.
The phone call Washington received warned there was a warrant out for her arrest, so she shouldn’t go vote.
She knew that wasn’t true, and the call left her determined to cast a ballot, she told The Daily News on Tuesday.
“It just got me all nerved up,” she said.
Similarly, Galveston resident Bert Feinman received a text message with misinformation about voting.
“If you are a U.S. citizen, you will need to provide a certified U.S. state-issued birth certificate, U.S. passport or a certificate of naturalization,” it said.
Out of those items, only a passport actually would be acceptable and there are several other valid forms of identification, including a driver’s license and state- issued ID, acceptable at the polls.
Feinman knew immediately the message was untrue, so she ignored it, she said. Feinman already had voted.
“I’m kind of surprised they did it in Galveston,” she said.
Law enforcement agencies across the country have reported and, in some cases, charged people in connection to instances of voter intimidation and misinformation via robocalls and text messages.
The uptick in such cases coincides with a tumultuous election season and an increasingly polarized electorate.
Such calls are a clear violation of federal law prohibiting voter intimidation and should be referred to law enforcement, said Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida.
Similar calls have been reported in other states during early voting, McDonald added.
Two conservative operatives this month, for instance, were charged in connection with false robocalls that aimed to dissuade Black residents in Detroit and other Democratic-leaning cities from voting by mail, according to The Associated Press.
The calls falsely warned residents if they vote by mail in the Nov. 3 election they could be subject to arrest, debt collection and forced vaccination, according to The Associated Press.
As outrageous as all that is, there’s more good news than bad, at least so far.
These attempts at voter suppression are tepid compared to the official methods such as poll taxes and literacy tests employed by governments themselves in the bad old days before the Voting Rights Act.
There’s room to argue about whether the governments involved locally in this election have done everything possible to promote voting.
Gov. Greg Abbott added an extra week to early voting, which was a great service to voters.
He wouldn’t, however, allow counties to operate more than one place for voters to hand-deliver mail-in ballots.
Abbott’s orders banning poll workers from requiring voters to wear masks was a murky issue with valid arguments on both sides. But a federal judge Tuesday ruled that contrary to Abbott’s order, poll workers could require masks.
The practice in Texas of attempting to match signatures on absentee ballots inspires uncertainty among voters and is just practically dubious, as anyone who has signed anything more than once must attest to if he’s being honest.
On the other hand, Galveston County is operating plenty of polling places and is offering services such as curbside voting for people worried about COVID-19.
The best news is that whatever the split on steps to blunt and steps to promote voting, people are going to the polls in robust numbers. It’s possible that by the time this hits the stands, the number of people who’ve voted early in this election will exceed the total number who voted in 2016.
We encourage every eligible, registered voter who has not voted to follow the example of Patricia Washington, that fine American who lives in Texas City.
“If I have to put on two masks, I’m going,” she said.
• Michael A. Smith