Washington, DC – Less than three weeks before the first voters cast ballots for the 2012 elections, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) have introduced their bill to create tough new criminal and civil penalties for those who create and distribute false and deceptive voting information and campaign literature. Respecting provisions of the First Amendment, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011 is narrowly tailored to apply to only a small category of false communications that occur during the last 90 days before an election, such as literature listing the wrong date or time for the election, giving inaccurate information about voter eligibility, or promoting false endorsements of candidates.
"Nearly 50 years after Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, we are still fighting to ensure that every American's vote counts," said Senator 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. All Americans deserve the right to choose a candidate based on relevant issues and the quality of the candidates, not based on underhanded efforts designed to undermine the integrity of our electoral process."
“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Senator Schumer. “We must do everything in our power to ensure that this fundamental, constitutional right is not corrupted for partisan gain. 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. 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.”
The Cardin-Schumer Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011, prohibits deceptive practices in federal elections, creates a civil right of action and criminal penalties for violations, allows for corrective action by the Attorney General, and requires the Department of Justice to report to Congress on such activity. This legislation recognizes the power of Congress to prohibit racially discriminatory tactics in elections under the Fifteenth Amendment, Voting Rights Act, and the general power of Congress under Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution to regulate the "times, places, and manner" of federal elections.
The legislation has been endorsed by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that for four decades has been at the forefront of the legal struggle to achieve equality and protect advances in voting rights for racial and ethnic minorities and other traditionally disenfranchised groups.
"Misleading robocalls, flyers and online messages with the intent of suppressing the vote is the real fraud being perpetrated against American voters. I was proud to stand with then-Senator Barack Obama in 2007 when he first introduced the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act and I'm grateful that Senators Schumer and Cardin continue to champion such an important law," said Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Senator Schumer first introduced legislation to prevent deceptive practices in federal elections in 2007, with then-Senator Barack Obama and cosponsored by Senator Cardin. Details of the Cardin-Schumer bill introduced today follows:
CARDIN-SCHUMER DECEPTIVE PRACTICES AND VOTER INTIMIDATION PREVENTION ACT OF 2011
Prohibits Deceptive Practices in Federal Elections
è Prohibits communicating false statements to voters regarding election and voting information: Prohibits any individual, within 90 days of an election, from communicating (including written, electronic, and telephone communications) or producing materially false election information with the intent to mislead voters or discourage or prevent another person from exercising the right to vote in a federal election. Prohibited communication includes false information on the time or place of the election and false voter qualification information, including fake criminal penalties associated with voting or other false information regarding status or eligibility.
è Prohibits false statements to voters regarding candidate endorsement: Prohibits any individual, within 90 days of an election, from communicating (including written, electronic, and telephone communications) a materially false statement about a public endorsement of a candidate with the intent to mislead voters.
è Prohibits hindering, interfering with, or preventing voting or voter registration: Prohibits any individual from interfering with or preventing another person from voting, registering to vote. Prohibits any individual from interfering with or preventing someone aiding another person to vote or register to vote.
è Prohibits payment to individuals for not voting: Amends the Voting Rights Act to include a prohibition on paying individuals to not vote (in addition to the existing prohibitions on paying for votes and registration to vote).
Creates Civil Right of Action and Criminal Penalties For Violations
è Creates a private right of action for deceptive practices: Allows any person aggrieved by a violation of the prohibition against deceptive practices to institute a civil action for preventive relief, including injunctions and restraining orders.
è Creates criminal penalties for deceptive practices: Individuals who commit deceptive practices or an attempt to commit deceptive practices are subject to a fine or imprisonment for not more than 5 years or both.
è Increases existing penalty for voter intimidation: Increases penalty for voter intimidation from 1 year to 5 years imprisonment.
è Authorizes and directs U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and amend Federal sentencing guidelines: Directs USSC to review and, if appropriate, amend applicable Federal sentencing guidelines and policy statements.
Allows for Corrective Action
è Allows AG to communicate accurate information to communities affected by deceptive practices: Authorizes Attorney General to promptly communicate accurate information to correct any false information disseminated to affected communities if AG determines that appropriate corrective action has not been taken by state or local officials. Sets standards Attorney General to communicate accurate information.
Reports to Congress
è Requires regular AG reports to Congress: Requires that, not later than 180 days after each general federal election, the Attorney General to submit a report to Congress compiling all allegations received by the AG of deceptive practices, including a detailed description of each allegation of deceptive practice, the status of the investigation, a description of each corrective action taken by the AG, criminal prosecutions made pursuant to an allegation, and other information. Requires report to be made public.
è Provides for severability of provisions: Provides that if any provision of the Act is held to be unconstitutional, the remainder of the Act shall not be affected by the holding
è Effective upon enactment: Provisions contained in the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act are effective upon enactment. AG required to issue written standards and procedures for corrective action within 180 days of enactment. U.S. Sentencing Commission required to review and, if appropriate, to amend Federal sentencing guidelines and policy statements within 180 days of enactment.