Sen. Ben Cardin said he will unveil legislation Wednesday to impose criminal and civil penalties for those who distribute false voting information before an election.
The effort, which Cardin is making along with New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, comes days after Paul Schurick, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s campaign manager, was found guilty of election fraud for attempting to suppress turnout with a last-minute robo-call.
The call, directed at black neighborhoods in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, told voters to “relax,” and stated before polls had closed that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s reelection was assured. Schurick’s attorney, arguing that the call was protected under the First Amendment, has vowed to appeal the ruling.
Cardin’s legislation would apply to communications that occur in the last 90 of an election with federal candidates on the ballot. Literature listing the wrong date or time for an election, giving inaccurate information about voter eligibility, or promoting false endorsements of candidates would be covered under the bill, for instance.
Though the legislation would have applied to the Schurick case, it was not drafted in response to it, a Cardin aide said. The senator has been working on the issue for several years and has introduced different iterations of the bill in the past.
Maryland has a long history of last-minute election sneak attacks, including erroneous sample ballots, literature insinuating endorsements that were never made and misleading robo-calls.
Updated: Those who use deceptive practices would be subject to a fine or a five-year prison sentence under the proposal. The bill would also authorize the U.S. Attorney General to communicate directly with voters to correct false information if state and local officials did not do so.