Senate Judiciary Committee shines light on voter suppression

On June 26, 2012 the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act (S. 1994). Sponsored by Senators Charles Schumer and Ben Cardin, the bill would amend federal criminal law to prohibit deceiving voters about when to vote and the qualifications for voting. It would also prescribe federal criminal penalties for doing so.

Senator Schumer:

Efforts to mislead and confuse eligible voters by distributing false and deceptive voting information and campaign literature is part of what seems to be a larger strategy to keep certain voters away from the polls. This bill will rightly make this shameful practice illegal and will impose strict penalties on those who lie to their fellow Americans through false communications to try to keep them from voting.

Senator Cardin:

All Americans deserve the right to choose a candidate based on relevant issues and the quality of the candidates, not based on underhanded efforts designed to undermine the integrity of our electoral process.

Project Vote testified in support of the legislation, providing a striking example of the dishonest behavior that the bill addresses: In 2006, a postcard mailing sent to African American neighborhoods in Dallas falsely claimed that being a victim of voter fraud "could result in jail time." This was clearly an effort to intimidate voters, and minority groups in particular, into staying home on Election Day.

Tanya Clay House of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told the Judiciary Committee that the organization has received over a half million calls nationwide through its hotline complaining about election problems, including deceptive tactics. The group believes that the proposed law is an important step to take. House explained that "because [current laws] do not uniformly address these types of deceptive tactics, prosecutions are therefore rare. Ensuring that misinformation is immediately corrected and disseminated in a timely manner may often actually be the best remedy, especially when Election Day is near." Therefore the corrective power included in the bill is especially important.

Jenny Flanagan at Common Cause told the Committee that her group has also received numerous complaints about voter deception. She added that "most Americans are shocked and appalled to hear that these types of campaigns occur, but we know that they do, and cannot stand by and wait for it to get worse."

These are just a few of many organizations that submitted material in support of the bill.

PFAW