U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D- MD)
today applauded the Senate Judiciary Committee as it voted to approve
Prevention of Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation in Federal Elections Act
, S. 453. Senator Cardin cosponsored this legislation, introduced by Senators Charles E. Schumer (D- NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL), in response to widespread concerns of voter deception and intimidation nationally.
“Fifty years after Congress changed the future of the United States in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1957, we are still fighting to ensure that every American’s vote counts,” said Senator Cardin. “The legacy of the Civil Rights Act requires this Congress to act to maintain the sanctity of the democratic process. This bill would make it illegal to manipulate and abuse the electoral process to attempt to prevent minorities from voting.”
During a hearing in June chaired by Senator Cardin, instances of voter deception and intimidation were revealed across the country, specifically in Maryland, California, Ohio and Florida, during the 2006 election. The tactics were aimed at disenfranchising minorities by using misleading campaign materials with incorrect dates for election day, threatening voters with parking tickets, taxes or convictions that could lead to arrest, and threatening naturalized citizens with incarceration.
“The reality is that campaigns can sometimes be difficult business. Marylanders and Americans deserve the right to choose a candidate based on the merits of the issues and the quality of the candidate, not based on underhanded politics trying to cheat citizens out of their right to vote,” said Senator Cardin. “This legislation is critical to ensuring that every person has the right and opportunity to the future of fully democratic elections in this country.”
The bill, as passed by the Judiciary Committee today, aims to expand the scope of the definition of voter intimidation by criminalizing the knowing distribution of certain false and deceptive campaign literature, within 60 days of an election. The bill would also authorize the government to take corrective action in response to false voting practices and requires the Justice Department to regularly report to Congress regarding these issues.
During the last three election cycles in Maryland, voters in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City were targeted with deceptive campaign literature containing inaccurate endorsements of political candidates, incorrect dates for election day and warnings to voters about paying parking tickets and settling outstanding warrants before they voted.
The legislation has been endorsed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, People for the American Way and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.