Latest News

Voters' fears about tricks understandable

OK. Let's settle down and take a deep breath.

Because Sen. Barack Obama, the first black presidential nominee of a major political party, has a decent chance of winning that office, some black people have become fearful that underhanded tactics will turn this race into an unfair fight.

Viral e-mails and rumors have increased in number and intensity, warning potential black voters to be aware of dirty tricks.

The rumors and e-mails are usually based on incidents that have occurred in this country in the past, and it's true that past history for black voters has not always been fair.

Earlier this week a list of mostly black registered voters was thought to be a list of purged voters. Well-meaning volunteers called the people and urged them to re-register, creating confusion and anger at the county clerk's office in downtown Lexington on Monday, the last day to register to vote for the upcoming presidential election.

The reason that situation was so believable is because in the 2000 presidential election, Florida election officials mismanaged the cleansing of felons from the voter rolls there, keeping legitimate voters from casting a ballot.

Many people, black and white, thought Florida had stolen the election from Al Gore and given it to George W. Bush.

Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins understands the mistrust, but he wants residents to know voters will be treated fairly in Lexington.

"Any allegations going around, I want to know about them," he said. "You never know if they might be true."

Blevins has already heard the one about voters being turned away if they wear Obama T-shirts or other political clothing or buttons to a precinct, as one e-mail warned.

That's not true.

Kentucky does have a law that bans passive electioneering at the polls. But an attorney general decision in 1992 said voters could wear what they want under their First Amendment rights.

In September, after the e-mails blanketed in-boxes, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson said that although he advises voters to avoid wearing signs of their political leanings, voters will not be turned away from polling places if they wear hats, T-shirts or buttons proclaiming their choice.

Blevins said that even if the paraphernalia is considered electioneering, all the voter would have to do is remove the item or turn it inside out.

"They still would have been allowed to vote," he said.

The e-mails just won't stop coming, however.

The latest e-mail I received goes like this:

"I was informed this weekend by a group of Obama volunteers that when voting for the presidential candidate this November, you have to make sure you punch Barack's name first, then proceed to punch "Straight Democratic" or else the vote for the president won't count. I'm not sure if any of you are aware of this, but we know they won't tell us this at the polls. Please make sure you inform others."

The e-mail then refers to an actual incident in Texas in 2004, where a voter chose a Democratic ticket on a machine similar to the ones Fayette County uses. When the voter reviewed her selection, however, she noticed that the presidential selection was Republican.

Blevins said that machine wasn't programmed correctly by the vendor.

In Kentucky, he said, the machines and ballots are checked by the County Board of Elections after they have been set.

And there is always a screen for voters to review their selections before casting the ballot. Corrections can be made before pushing the red button.

But, he warned, those who vote a straight ticket will not be casting a ballot for the Urban County Council races, the school board contenders, or judges. All those races are non-partisan.

"My goal will be to treat everyone in this county 100 percent fair as long as I am in this office," Blevins said.

This election gives black people our first opportunity to vote for a viable black candidate who could become president of this country. The black community is more vested in this election than I have ever seen in my life.

Fears run high because of that, fear that somehow this dream will once again be snatched away, stomped or deferred.

Just take a deep breath, settle down and enjoy this first kiss.

Even if it doesn't lead to a relationship, it will still be something we can tell our grandchildren about.