Obama Bill Would Make Voter Intimidation, Election Fraud Illegal
U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today praised the Senate Judiciary Committee's passage of the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act (S.453), a bill that would prohibit and punish deceptive practices that seek to intimidate or mislead voters to keep them away from the polls on Election Day. Obama originally introduced this legislation in the Senate in January 2007. Representative Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) introduced the companion legislation in the House of Representatives, which passed in June 2007.
"For too many elections, misinformation and intimidation have kept thousands of Americans from voting," said Senator Obama. "Voting is not only a basic right but also one of our most important responsibilities, and we must ensure that all Americans have equal, unfettered access to the polls. I urge the Senate to act quickly to pass this bill to make voter intimidation and deceptive election practices illegal."
Calculated efforts to disenfranchise voters persist each election year. During the 2006 election, thousands of Latino voters in Orange County, California received letters telling them that immigrants who voted would be jailed - implying that this even applied to naturalized citizens. In Maryland, voters received fabricated sample Democratic ballots that featured Republican candidates for governor and senator. And in Virginia, voters were phoned by a fraudulent "Virginia Elections Commission" claiming they were ineligible to vote. These tactics most often target vulnerable communities, such as minorities, the elderly, and the disabled.
The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act will make voter intimidation and election misinformation punishable by law, and contains strong penalties for those who commit these crimes. Furthermore, it would establish a process for providing misinformed voters with accurate information so they can cast their votes in time. The legislation would also:
* Elevate deceptive practices in elections to a felony and increase the penalty to up to $250,000 or five years imprisonment
* Require the Department of Justice to provide voters with accurate election information when allegations of voting fraud are confirmed
* Authorize the Attorney General to initiate action on complaints
* Require the Attorney General to develop ways to provide corrective election information to voters
* Require the Attorney General to refer cases to the Civil Rights Division for prosecution as well as the appropriate federal and state authorities
* Require the Attorney General to evaluate how to provide corrective information through various forms of public broadcast like public service announcements and emergency alert systems.
This legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Russell Feingold (D-WI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), John Kerry (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Tom Coburn (R-OK).