WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are renewing the call for federal action against voter intimidation and deceptive practices designed to stop Americans from voting. They filed S. 1834, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2019. Historically, certain citizens, especially racial and ethnic minorities, were prevented from voting because of significant barriers like literacy tests and poll taxes. While constitutional amendments and voting rights legislation have removed some of the systemic barriers to voting, new tactics emerge every election cycle to suppress voter participation by intimidating or intentionally misleading voters.
Congressman A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.-4) and Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.-10) have filed companion legislation in the House of Representatives. Senate cosponsors include Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). The legislation also has been endorsed by the Brennan Center for Justice and Democracy 21.
“The use of deceptive practices and voter intimidation tactics are not new, but technology has brought such activity online and made it harder to trace the culprits. Reliably, these tactics seem to target minority neighborhoods and are blatant attempts to reduce turnout,” said Senator Cardin. “Voting forms the bedrock of our democracy, so we should all want to encourage greater participation in our electoral system – not less. Congress must take action to combat deceptive practices designed to stop Americans from exercising their right to vote.”
“Our country is stronger when more people participate in our democracy. While we have made important progress in protecting the right to vote, there are still people working to disenfranchise Americans, especially minorities,” said Senator Klobuchar. “Foreign adversaries and those here at home who are working to block people from the ballot box have developed new tactics to intimidate voters and spread deceptive information about elections. This bill would ensure that those who seek to undermine the integrity of our elections by deceiving voters face consequences.”
“A citizen’s ability to vote is an essential part of a well-functioning democracy,” said Congressman McEachin. “Unfortunately, all too often, we have witnessed attempts to mislead or outright lie to voters about voting. In recent elections, we have seen numerous misinformation campaigns and intimidation tactics, including calls to voters claiming they are no longer registered to vote, online graphics spreading false information about Election Day, and reports of people standing outside polling places with barking dogs. This is unacceptable and it is clear we need protections against attempts to fraudulently influence our democracy. I am proud to introduce this legislation to help protect voters and combat those who seek to improperly influence our elections.”
“Voting is one of the fundamental pillars of democracy,” said Chairman Nadler. “Although we have come a long way since the horrors of the past where African Americans were blatantly prohibited from voting based on the color of their skin, modern day tactics to stifle the vote and prevent minorities from having their voices heard persist. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation that will mitigate these deceptive practices and help protect the vote for every American.”
Examples of deceptive practices include:
- In 2018, there were attempts to mislead voters in both Florida and Georgia, which included robocalls from a white supremacist group pretending to be gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams.
- In 2016, accounts tied to Russia circulated misinformation targeted to African American groups. The messages contained incorrect information about voting, and were designed to sow division.
- In 2012, Billboards displaying the words “VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY” appeared in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Columbus.
- In previous elections, thousands of voters reportedly received postcards providing false information about voter eligibility and warnings about criminal penalties for voter fraud.
The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2019 seeks to help by:
(1) Prohibiting individuals from knowingly deceiving others about the time, place, eligibility, or procedures of participating in a federal election
(2) Addressing new digital challenges that pose a threat to citizens exercising their right to vote, particularly the use of digital platforms to disseminate false information regarding federal elections
(3) Combating voter intimidation, especially efforts aimed at suppressing voting rights
The legislation would:
- Enact penalties, including a fine of no more than $100,000 and/or imprisonment for no more than 5 years, for individuals who engage in voter intimidation
- Give the Attorney General the responsibility ensuring that states are taking adequate steps to counter voter intimidation. The bill also requires the Attorney General to, no later than 180 days after each general election for federal office, submit a public report to Congress compiling all allegations of deceptive practices received by the Attorney General
- Emphasize that voter intimidation by the spreading of false information is not protected under the First Amendment