By U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
Over the last decade, we’ve seen repeated efforts to suppress voter turnout. Unfortunately, this year was no different. On Election Day, Nov. 2, 2010, tens of thousands of Marylanders received phone calls telling them that “Governor O’Malley and President Obama have been successful” and to “relax, everything is fine.” The call went on to say that victory was assured and their votes weren’t need. “The only thing left is to watch TV tonight. Congratulations and thank you.”
On Election night, approximately two hours before the close of the polls, 50,000 of these misleading calls were made to Maryland voters. The calls have been traced to a political operative who was paid more than $97,000 by the Ehrlich for Governor Campaign for political work.
We have seen these tactics before. During the 2006 and 2008 elections in Maryland similar intentionally misleading actions occurred. In those elections, voters were targeted with deceptive literature, misleading automated calls, voter intimidation, and suggestions of arrest for unpaid parking tickets or unpaid taxes if individuals attempted to vote. During my own 2006 Senate campaign, voter guides were handed out by the opposing party that contained false and misleading endorsements in an effort to diminish the impact of minority voters.
Reports of voter deception are not limited to Maryland. During this past election in California, thousands of Hispanic voters received robocalls telling them Election Day was Wednesday, Nov. 3, a day after the election. At a McDonald’s in Ohio, workers received paychecks with a letter attached urging them to vote Republican or their pay and benefits would be in jeopardy. And, in Arizona, a poll worker was observed videotaping voters as they entered polling places.
Targeting voters with deceptive messages in a deliberate attempt to suppress voter participation is well outside the limits of protected free speech. We cannot continue to allow such intentional actions to be tolerated. We have a moral obligation to stop these reprehensible tactics that are aimed at keeping minorities and others from exercising their inalienable right to vote. These tactics undermine and corrode our democracy and threaten the very integrity of our electoral process.
I have written to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the Department of Justice thoroughly examine the deceptive practices used on November 2, 2010 against voters in Maryland and elsewhere around the nation. We must ensure that such deliberate practices are not tolerated.
In 2007, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I chaired a Committee hearing to review the need for S453, the Prevention of Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation in Federal Elections Act. I co-sponsored the legislation with Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and then-Senator Barack Obama. The bill, which was approved by the Judiciary Committee, would impose criminal penalties on deceptive voter practices.
I also have requested a Judiciary Committee hearing on deceptive voter practices that occurred this election cycle in Maryland and elsewhere.
Our democracy depends on free and fair elections and voting is one of our most fundamental rights. We cannot and we must not allow any group or individual to subvert that right.