U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the
Prevention of Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation in Federal Elections Act
, S. 453, legislation he has cosponsored with Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL). The bill would impose criminal penalties on deceptive election practices.
“It is despicable and outrageous when a campaign uses deceptive tactics to deliberately suppress the minority vote,” said Senator Cardin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The tactics we saw in Maryland and across America in recent elections are not new. We have a moral obligation to stop these reprehensible tactics that are aimed at keeping minorities from exercising their inalienable right to vote. These tactics undermine and corrode our democracy and threaten the very integrity of our electoral process.”
Testifying before the Committee were:
Senator Charles E. Schumer
Senator Barack Obama
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler
Executive Jack B. Johnson, Prince George’s County, MD
Hilary O. Shelton, Director, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
John Trasviña, President and General Counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)
Richard Briffault, Professor of Legislation Columbia Law School
The hearing revealed numerous instances of voter deception and intimidation used throughout the country. The Committee heard examples of misleading campaign materials that stated the wrong election day; gave different dates for Republicans and Democrats to vote in a general election; threatened that voters with unpaid parking tickets, taxes, or misdemeanor convictions would be arrested or loose custody of their children; and warned immigrants (which includes naturalized citizens of the US who have a right to vote) that it is a crime to vote and can result in incarceration.
The bill would criminalize, within 60 days of an election, the knowing distribution of false and deceptive campaign literature that meet certain criteria. Specifically designed to strengthen voter protections, the bill builds on the legacy of the Voting Rights Act.
The bill also authorizes corrective action to be taken by the government to respond to false and deceptive practices, and requires the Justice Department to regularly report to Congress on these issues.
In Maryland, the 2006 Election was marred by fraudulent and misleading practices. Voters in Prince George’s County were specifically targeted by false and deceptive campaign literature that contained inaccurate endorsements of political candidates. In 2002 fliers were handed out in Baltimore City that contained the wrong day for the election and warned voters about paying parking tickets and settling outstanding warrants before they vote.