Hope For Fair 2008 Elections Renewed With House Passage of Deceptive Practices Legislation

People For the American Way (PFAW) today applauded U.S. House passage of the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, which makes the practice of deceiving voters a felony that carries a penalty of up to $250,000 or five years in prison, and increases the criminal penalty for voter intimidation to five years imprisonment.

“This is a tremendous first step in the campaign to reform our elections from top to bottom,” said Ralph G. Neas, PFAW president. “We’ve seen too many egregious tactics in recent elections. Middle-of-the-night robo calls that purport to be made by a candidate, but are really meant to annoy and mislead voters. Attempts to send voters to the wrong polling place, or threaten them with arrest if they haven’t paid a parking ticket. Flyers with false information about candidate endorsements. Passage of this bill puts real momentum behind the movement to clean up these shameful tactics once and for all. I applaud Representatives Rahm Emanuel and John Conyers for their leadership on this bill.”

The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act also requires the Department of Justice to notify voters with accurate information when deceptive practices are confirmed in order to better protect voters. Representatives Rush Holt, Xavier Becerra, Mike Honda, and Keith Ellison are the principal cosponsors of the legislation. Senators Barack Obama, Ben Cardin, Russ Feingold, and Charles Schumer introduced the Senate version of the bill in January, along with a strong list of original cosponsors.

Neas testified on the legislation earlier this year before the House Judiciary Committee. As a co-founder of the Election Protection Coalition, PFAW’s affiliate People For the American Way Foundation has tracked and documented deceptive practices and voter intimidation schemes across the country in a series of reports with allies such as the NAACP and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. (See our reports The Long Shadow of Jim Crow, and The New Face of Jim Crow.)

Neas said the victory in the House is good news for backers of overall reform, including Rep. Rush Holt’s voting system security reform bill in the House, as well as more comprehensive proposals by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Hillary Clinton in the Senate.

“This is the first of many victories to come for advocates who want to make American elections fair, trustworthy, open and accessible for every American — and erase the terrible problems we’ve seen in every election since the debacle in Florida in 2000,” said Neas. “The new leadership in the House and the Senate are ready to make good on their promises to the American voter.”

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