February is Black History Month and it is a time in which all Americans should reflect on the struggle for civil rights that millions of our citizens have endured. It also is a time for us to recommit ourselves to ensuring that all American have the right to vote — without fear of intimidation, fraud or other deceptive practices.
During the 2006 election, many Marylanders were victims of fraudulent and misleading practices, particularly on Election Day in November. Voters in Prince George's County were specifically targeted with fraudulent and misleading material that was handed out by homeless individuals who were bused in from Philadelphia. Instances of deceptive campaign practices also occurred in Wisconsin and Virginia. This type of behavior cannot be tolerated.
I recently co-sponsored the
Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act
, a measure that was introduced by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). In an ideal world, political candidates would never engage in such behavior and we would not need such legislation. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.
Although this bill would protect the right to free speech, it would criminalize deceptive election practices. Specifically, it would impose criminal penalties of up to $100,000 and up to five years imprisonment for those found guilty of deceptive campaign practices. It also would require the U.S. Attorney General to report to Congress after every election on allegations of deceptive practices and on action taken to correct such practices.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I recently had the opportunity to urge U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to investigate voter intimidation and fraud that took place in Maryland. I am pleased that the Attorney General has agreed to meet with me to discuss the matter more fully.
As we celebrate Black History Month, we should remember the many Americans who have sacrificed to ensure that all Americans are able to fully participate in the democratic process. I recently co-sponsored a resolution honoring the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on its 98th Anniversary.
Since its founding in 1909, the NAACP has fought for social and economic justice. From the ballot box to the classroom, the NAACP has worked tirelessly so that all Americans – regardless of race, nationality, or gender — receive fair and equal treatment.