Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) today co-sponsored the
Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007, a bill designed to protect voters from the type of fraud and intimidation observed at Maryland polls last fall. The bill, introduced by
Senators Barack Obama (D-Ill) and
Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), would criminalize deceptive practices and gives individual voters the right to take action.
Candidates for public office should hold themselves to a high standard and always conduct themselves in a trustworthy manner, said Sen. Cardin. Unfortunately, as we witnessed last fall in Maryland and elsewhere, that is not always the case. Campaign fraud and voter intimidation still exists in America today. Its unfortunate that a bill like this is necessary, but we must protect the voters and the integrity of our system.
Senator Cardin announced his support for the Act today at a press conference with Senators Obama and Schumer.
The legislation would, among other things, allow for criminal penalties of up to $100,000 and up to five years imprisonment for those found guilty of deceptive campaign practices, such as making false claims to voters about who has endorsed a candidate. If deceptive practices are found to be occurring before Election Day, the Attorney General can take corrective action to halt distribution of the deceptive information and set the record straight.
The bill would also require the Attorney General, after each federal election, to report to Congress on the allegations of deceptive practices and the actions taken to correct such practices.
The bill is drafted so as not to infringe on the Constitutional right to freedom of speech.
As of earlier today, the following groups have endorsed the bill: NAACP, MALDEF, PFAW, Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Disability Rights Network, Votetrust USA, and Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action.
In the days leading up to last Novembers election, two state-wide candidates in Maryland distributed blatantly deceptive literature at the polls and there were additional instances of voter intimidation and mismanagement by election officials.
The misleading literature clearly targeted African American voters by asserting that popular African American Democratic leaders had endorsed the Republican candidates for Governor and Senate when in fact they had endorsed the Democratic candidates. It was mailed and distributed to voters in Prince Georges County, a predominantly African American jurisdiction, and in African American communities in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on January 18, Sen. Cardin asked Attorney General Gonzales to investigate the voter intimidation and fraud that took place in Maryland. The Attorney General agreed to meet with Sen. Cardin to further discuss the matter.