Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) testified today before the House Judiciary Committee on the need to combat voter deception and election irregularities that have occurred in Maryland and across the nation in recent elections, disproportionately affecting minority communities. He was joined on a panel with
Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), and
Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and
Rahm Emanuel (D-IL).
“Last weekend, we honored the anniversary of the March from Selma to Montgomery, a historic day when civil rights activists took to the streets and demanded that every American have the right to vote,” said Sen. Cardin. “Yet voter intimidation and suppression still exists in America today, and it disproportionately targets minority communities. In recent elections in Maryland and across the nation, we've seen deceptive literature handed out in minority communities, notices telling voters the wrong election date, and other blatant campaign tactics for the purpose of suppressing minority turnout. We can do better as a nation.
“In order for democracy to work, every American who wants to vote must be able to cast their ballot for the candidate they wish. When a candidate or campaign committee intentionally tries to mislead voters, suppress turnout or tamper with polling place operations, we all lose. Democracy loses. We must take action to protect the voters and the integrity of our system,” said Sen. Cardin.
In the days leading up to last November's election, two state-wide candidates in Maryland distributed blatantly deceptive literature at the polls in minority communities and there were additional instances of voter intimidation and mismanagement by election officials. Similar incidents of deception targeting minority communities occurred in other parts of the nation.
Last month, Sen. Cardin co-sponsored the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007, a bill introduced by Sen. Obama in order to criminalize voter intimidation and gives individual voters the right to take action. The House Judiciary Committee is considering similar legislation.
The following excerpts are from Sen. Cardin's prepared testimony:
· “After having served in elective office in Annapolis for 20 years and in Washington for 20 years, I understand that campaigns are a rough and tumble business. I expect that candidates will question and criticize my record and judgment, and voters ultimately have a right to choose their candidate. What goes beyond the pale is when a campaign uses deceptive tactics to deliberately marginalize minority voters.
· “Sadly, the tactics we saw in Maryland are not new, and in previous years deceptive practices in Baltimore City, the State of Maryland, and throughout the United States involved handing out false and deceptive literature in African-American neighborhoods. In previous elections we have seen deceptive literature distributed which gave the wrong date for the election, the wrong times when polling places were open, and even suggested that people could be arrested if they had unpaid parking tickets or taxes and tried to vote. My colleagues on the panel, I am sure, will discuss other such tactics designed to suppress minority turnout.
· “I reject that this is the way we do business in 2006 in Maryland and in the United States of America. To me this is clearly an organized pattern and practice of attempting to confuse minority voters and to suppress minority turnout.
· “It has been 137 years since Congress and the states ratified the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1870, which states that 'the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race [or] color…' The Amendment also gave Congress power to enforce the article by 'appropriate legislation.' African-Americans suffered through nearly another 100 years of discrimination at the hands of Jim Crow laws and regulations, designed to make it difficult if not impossible for African-Americans to register to vote due to literacy tests, poll taxes, and outright harassment and violence. It took Congress and the states nearly another century until we adopted the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution in 1964, which prohibited poll taxes or any tax on the right to vote. In 1965 Congress finally enacted the Voting Rights Act, which once and for all was supposed to prohibit
discrimination against voters on the basis of race or color.
· “It is time for Congress to once again take action to stop the latest reprehensible tactics that are being used against African-American voters to interfere with (a) their right to vote or (b) their right to vote for the candidate of their choice, as protected in the Voting Rights Act. These tactics undermine and corrode our very democracy and threaten the very integrity of our electoral process.
· “Today we have the obligation and duty to fulfill the promises made by Congress and the states nearly 140 years after the end of the Civil War, and over 40 years after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. I urge you to pass this legislation that would stop the use of false and deceptive practices designed to disenfranchise and suppress minority voter turnout. Let us make it crystal clear that it is illegal to use these types of campaign tactics to deliberately try to suppress and intimidate minority voters from casting their hard-won and precious right to vote in an election.”