Tea party activists in South Carolina are allegedly intimidating black college students and other black voters at the polls, according to the South Carolina Democratic Party. Early this morning, self-identified tea party activists showed up at a polling station near Benedict College in Columbia, “basically harassing students—telling people not to vote and generally making voters feel uncomfortable,” says Keiana Page, press secretary for the state Democratic Party, who said that the party’s legal team is currently investigating the reported incident at the historically black college.
A writer for JackandJillPolitics.com, a site run by black bloggers, also said that she had gotten a call this morning from a local resident that tea party activists were harassing students. “They are protesting student votes and making them vote with provisional ballots,” Cheryl Contee reports. “Benedict is one of our proudest HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] and these kids don’t deserve this as one of their first experiences voting in America.” Page tells Mother Jones that Benedict College has been “a favorite harassment spot for Republicans in 2006 and 2004,” claiming that Republicans have a history of challenging student voters who registered using their college address. It’s unclear whether any student voters were kept from voting due to the alleged intimidation or how many were forced to fill out provisional ballots.
The South Carolina Democrats are also investigating a separate series of incidents in the North Hope Center precinct in Sumter, South Carolina, where tea party activists have also allegedly been harassing black voters. They have been “shouting at the hard working people who have taken time from work or school and are telling them not to vote. Apparently this is happening at more than one location in Sumter,” writes Tubman.
Allen Olson, a coordinator for the Columbia Tea Party, says that tea party groups throughout the state had recruited poll watchers—and one group had focused efforts in the Sumter area. Olson notes, however, he had not heard about the alleged incidents of voter intimidation. “If they’re intimidating anyone I don’t condone that—I think it’s appalling,” he says. “As long as they’re legitimately registered and legitimately voting, I have absolutely no problem with it.” Depending on what’s confirmed, the allegations could make it harder for tea party activists to dispel the accusation that their members are racist
The South Carolina Dems have yet to find direct evidence of Republican involvement or identified any specific tea party groups, and the state GOP did not reply immediately to a request for comment. Calling the alleged intimidation “disgraceful,” Page says that these incidents are an outgrowth of this year’s high stakes elections in South Carolina, where Nikki Haley’s tightening race for governor, among others, have been in the national spotlight. “The tea party recognizes importance of all voters—and especially minority voters. They know minority voters will hold a great stake. They are using every trick in the book.”
*Update: Kim Hunter, a spokeswoman for Benedict College, said that she hadn’t received reports from students about problems at the polls. Hunter explained that students who registered on campus but didn’t have their voter registration cards had to travel to the main elections office. She noted there were two white Republican poll watchers at that polling station but hadn’t heard of any wrongdoing, adding that she planned to follow up with the SC Democratic Party about the allegations.