Senators Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) and Charles Schumer (D-New York) unveiled today a bill that would impose tough criminal and civil penalties for anyone who creates and distributes false and deceptive voting information in an attempt to keep voters from the polls. It is part of an ongoing fight launched by congressional Democrats to fight measures that aim to disenfranchise voters.
The lawmakers said that the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011 respects the First Amendment’s free speech protections. It would be applied to efforts taken during the last 90 days leading up to an election, including listing the wrong date or time for an election, inaccurate information about voter eligibility or promoting false endorsements. Individuals who are found to have committed deceptive practices would face a fine and up to five years' imprisonment.
“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,” said Schumer. “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.”
Last week, Paul Schurick, who served as campaign manager to former Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich, was convicted of voter suppression charges. The campaign made robocalls to voters in the two counties with the largest Black voting populations encouraging them to stay at home before the polls closed because their choice, Gov. Martin O’Malley had wrapped up the election.
A second Ehrlich campaign aide, Julius Henson, who is African-American, faces similar charges and is headed to court early next year.
"Nearly 50 years after Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, we are still fighting to ensure that every American's vote counts," said Cardin. "The tactics we saw in Maryland and across America in recent elections are not new. We have a moral obligation to stop these reprehensible activities that are aimed at keeping minorities from exercising their inalienable right to vote."
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(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)