Voter ID billboard irks Latino advocates

Associated Press / April 13, 2011

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SOUTHBRIDGE — A billboard near a largely Latino district in Southbridge asking voters to show ID for Tuesday’s special election primary for a State House seat — not a requirement in Massachusetts — is drawing fire from Latino advocates who say it is part of a larger campaign of voter intimidation.

The billboard, sponsored by the groups Empower Massachusetts and Show ID to Vote, both with connections to the conservative Tea Party movement, tells voters to “protect the integrity of the vote’’ and “show ID’’ next to a picture of a white woman holding an identification card.

Christen Varley, founder of Empower Massachusetts, also said the groups have “poll observers’’ in five precincts to monitor the Sixth Worcester District House special primary Tuesday between state Representative Geraldo Alicea, 47, and Joanne Powell, 48, both Charlton Democrats.

Some Latino advocates, however, said the billboard and the observers are meant to intimidate Latino voters, especially newly registered immigrants.

“You don’t need your ID to vote in the state of Massachusetts,’’ said Alejandra St. Guillen, executive director of ¿Oíste?, a group that trains Latinos in Massachusetts to run for office. “To place [the billboard] directly in Latino areas with the intention of intimidating Latino voters I find as a gross miscarriage of justice.’’

Varley said the campaign is not about intimidating anyone, but rather to make sure the election is clean and fair after a contested election for the seat in November. She also said the billboard wasn’t intentionally placed in an area to target Latino voters.

“I called six different companies and that was the location I found. I wasn’t offered an alternative,’’ Varley said. “The billboard faces a parking lot. It has nothing to do with placement.’’

St. Guillen said her group was urging volunteers to go to polls to monitor “potential voter intimidation’’ and has asked advocates to contact Secretary of State William Galvin for any signs of intimidation.

The special election was called after a tie in the November election between Alicea and Peter Durant, a Republican selectman from Spencer. Durant’s supporters alleged ballot-handling “irregularities’’ during recounts.

Empower Massachusetts and Show ID to Vote are also calling on voters to voluntarily show identification at polls during the general special election May 10.

After Empower Massachusetts and Show ID to Vote launched their “integrity of the vote’’ campaign, the groups used Facebook and conservative blogs to help raise money. The groups vowed to train more “citizen poll observers’’ for the May 10 special election, according to a blog posting on Red Mass Group.

Durant is running unopposed in the special primary. Also running are independents Peter Boria, a Charlton selectman, and Robert Cirba, a Spencer-East Brookfield School Committee member.