Deceptive Practices Bill Advances In Senate Judiciary Committee

People For the American Way (PFAW) today hailed the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval of the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, which levies heavy fines and penalties for those who attempt to deceive or intimidate voters, or suppress turnout at the polls.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), makes deceptive practices a felony with a fine as much as $250,000 and five years in prison, and increases the prison sentence for voter intimidation to five years. It also requires the Department of Justice to step in with accurate information when voters are misled and deceptive practices are confirmed.

“Hit them in the pocketbook, put them behind bars, and make these shady political operatives understand that it’s a serious crime to tamper with a citizen’s right to vote. That’s what this bill does,” said Ralph G. Neas, President Emeritus of People For the American Way. “It’s time to crack down on these shameful practices, and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval gives this bill real momentum. Now we need to press for full Senate passage.”

People For the American Way and its sister foundation have been tracking voter intimidation, deception and suppression tactics for years. Neas said technological advances and “micro-targeting” of voters have spawned new forms of intimidation, both subtle and overt.

“Dirty tricks are nothing new in politics, but in recent years we’ve seen some particularly egregious examples. And today’s technology makes it possible to deceive voters in new ways, like the automated ‘robocalls’ voters received in 2006 purporting to be from Democratic candidates but in fact made on behalf of the Republican party. And there are the old standbys, like flyers telling voters they’ll be arrested at the polls if they have unpaid parking tickets or late phone bills,” said Tanya Clay House, PFAW’s Director of Public Policy. “None of it has a place in a free society.”

Senators Barack Obama, Ben Cardin, Russ Feingold, and Charles Schumer introduced the legislation in January with a strong list of original cosponsors. Representatives Rahm Emanuel and John Conyers introduced a House companion, which passed the full House in June. Representatives Rush Holt, Xavier Becerra, Mike Honda, and Keith Ellison were the principal cosponsors of the House bill.

Neas testified on the legislation earlier this year before the House Judiciary Committee. To find examples of the kind of voter intimidation and suppression tactics PFAW Foundation has tracked in the past, see our reports The Long Shadow of Jim Crow, and The New Face of Jim Crow.)

People For the American Way is also supporting election reform efforts at the state level. In March, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine signed into law a bill banning deceptive practices that was passed unanimously by the Virginia Assembly. People For the American Way worked closely with Congressman Keith Ellison, then a state representative, on the introduction and passage of deceptive practices legislation in Minnesota. PFAW has also worked with state legislators in California, Ohio, and Texas on the introduction of similar legislation.

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