For too long the Republicans have been the ones talking about crime in elections. Of course, they see crime only in the possibility that the "wrong" people will register or will vote. Now Sen. Barack Obama has taken back the high ground for the Democrats by turning the conversation to the prevention of dirty tricks.
A press release from Sen. Barack Obama: U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) Tuesday introduced legislation to protect Americans from using tactics that intimidate voters and prevent them from exercising their rights on Election Day.
Obama’s legislation, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2005, would make it illegal for anyone to knowingly attempt to prevent others from exercising his or her right to vote by providing deceptive information and would require the Attorney General to fully investigate these allegations. The legislation would also require the Attorney General, in conjunction with the Election Assistance Commission, to provide accurate election information when allegations of deceptive practices are confirmed.
“One of our most sacred rights as Americans is the right to make our voice heard at the polls,” said Obama. “But too often, we hear reports of mysterious phone calls and mailers arriving just days before an election that seek to mislead and threaten voters to keep them from the polls. And those who engage in these deceptive and underhanded campaign tactics usually target voters living in minority or low-income neighborhoods. This legislation would ensure that for the first time, these incidents are fully investigated and that those found guilty are punished.”
As recently as the 2004 Presidential election there have been reports of tactics aimed at preventing rightful voters from exercising their right to cast a ballot. In Milwaukee some voters received fliers from the non-existent “Milwaukee Black Voters League,” warning that voters risk imprisonment for voting if they were ever found guilty of any offense – even a traffic violation. In one county in Ohio, some voters received false mailings claiming that anyone registered to vote by the Kerry Campaign or the NAACP would be barred from voting. Similar reports were echoed in jurisdictions across the country and underscore the need for concerted action against such tactics. But many of these incidents are never investigated, and the culprit is never discovered.
Obama’s legislation would provide a criminal penalty for deceptive practices, with penalties of up to $100,000 or one year imprisonment, or both. The legislation would also require the Attorney General to work with the Federal Communications Commission and the Election Assistance Commission to determine the feasibility of using the public broadcasting system as a means of providing voters with full and accurate Election Day information.
Obama’s legislation is supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Common Cause, the Arc of the United States, the People for the American Way, the National Disability Rights Network, United Cerebral Palsy and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Update: A copy of the bill is here.