Yesterday, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced important legislation to punish voter suppression and intimidation tactics. The bill fills in important gaps in federal law by creating tough new criminal and civil penalties for those who create and distribute false and deceptive voting information and campaign literature, says Project Vote.
“In this year, when hurdles to voting have been spreading across the states like wildfire, it is especially important to have a federal law that addresses some of the most egregious voter suppression tactics,” says Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote.
The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011 applies to false communications that occur during the last 90 days before an election, such as literature listing the wrong date or time for the election, giving inaccurate information about voter eligibility, or promoting false endorsements of candidates. These underhanded practices are most often targeted to minority populations and are designed to suppress turnout.
Just last week, Paul E. Schurick, the campaign manager for Maryland’s former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s (R), was found guilty of four counts of election law violations stemming from ordering robocalls. Those calls targeted Black voters and told them not to go to the polls. “As the nation prepares for another historic election, this is the right time to send a strong message that campaigns must end their dirty tricks,” says Slater.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against the trend of voter suppression we’re seeing across the country. Holder reminded the nation that voting is a right, without which all others are meaningless. He delivered this speech from the library of President Lyndon B Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As Johnson once said, “It is wrong – deadly wrong – to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”
“Project Vote is hopeful that the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011 will become a new tool for combating attacks on voters as we work to ensure expanded voter participation,” says Slater. “Our democracy works best when every American participates.”
January 13, 2012
Dear Senator Cardin:
On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we would like to express our support for the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act (S. 1994).
NEA believes the right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted, is the most basic tenet of a democratic society. The Voting Rights Act (VRA)—our nation’s most successful civil rights law—has had remarkable success in ensuring access to the voting booth. Congress enacted it in response to persistent and purposeful discrimination through literacy tests, poll taxes, intimidation, threats, and violence. The VRA has enfranchised millions of racial, ethnic, and language minority citizens by eliminating discriminatory practices and removing other barriers to their political participation.
Yet, despite the success of the VRA, it is clear that voter inequities, disparities, and obstacles still remain for far too many minority voters. Voter suppression and intimidation are still very much alive in our nation. We have seen in recent years a very troubling increase in misleading and fraudulent information about elections, voter intimidation, and robocalls designed to suppress the vote guaranteed every citizen by the U.S. Constitution. In addition, there have been an unprecedented number of anti-voter initiatives considered in state legislatures – proposals and laws enacted to require photo identification, eliminate same day registration, shrink early voting windows, change student voting requirements, and other techniques designed to make it harder for people to vote.
We strongly support your proposal to implement criminal penalties of up to $100,000 and up to five years imprisonment for those found guilty of deceptive campaign practices. These proposals will help restore the integrity of our election process and ensure that every citizen can cast their vote. We also encourage you to call for congressional hearings on the dangerous trend in states to restrict the ability to vote and to urge the Department of Justice to investigate and report on the impact of these new anti-voter laws.
NEA will be working aggressively this year to call attention to and combat initiatives and practices that deny or restrict the right to vote. We thank you for your leadership on this most important issue and look forward to working with you to ensure fair and open elections across the nation.
With America on the cusp of what promises to be a closely-contested presidential election, the voter intimidation legislation introduced by Sens. Ben Cardin and Chuck Schumer gives Congress an opportunity to reaffirm the nation’s commitment to voting rights and free and open elections, Common Cause said today.
“In too many of our states, candidates and elected officials are stoking groundless fears about ‘voter fraud’ in an attempt to justify legislation restricting voting rights,” said Bob Edgar, president of the non-partisan government watchdog group. “This proposal refocuses our attention on the real threat to the integrity of our elections – the partisan use of dirty tricks and intimidation tactics to keep tens of thousands of qualified voters away from the polls. The Senate leadership should put it on a fast-track to passage.”
The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act would ban false advertisements and other statements about the time and place of elections and voter qualifications. It also would prohibit attempts to interfere with voter registration or voting. Violators would be subject to criminal penalties, including up to 5 years in prison.
The bill’s introduction comes less than a week after a Maryland jury convicted Paul Schurick, a one-time aide to former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, of multiple felony charges stemming from his role in arranging an Election Day-2010 automated call to more than 100,000 Marylanders. Directed at African-Americans, who overwhelmingly favored Democratic incumbent Martin O’Malley over Ehrlich in the state’s gubernatorial race, the call declared that O’Malley had won re-election and advised voters they could stay home.
Edgar said the Cardin-Schumer bill would allow federal authorities to strike at voter intimidation and deception in federal elections – for President, the U.S. Senate and the House – in the same way Maryland attacked the problem in its race for governor. “These kinds of dirty tricks are an attack on our democracy and deserve a tough, federal response,” he asserted.