You are here

Voter Intimidation

On June 25, 2007, the House passed the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, H.R. 1281, which will prohibit and punish deceptive practices that aim to keep voters away from the polls on Election Day. This bill protects every American citizen's right to vote by making voter deception, for the first time, a crime.

Every American citizen deserves the right to cast his or her ballot free from intimidation and misinformation.  There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than a citizen's right to vote.  Unfortunately, there are people who will stop at nothing to try to deceive voters and keep them away from the polls.  What's worse is that these practices often target and exploit vulnerable populations - such as minorities, people with disabilities, and the poor.  This bill is simply designed to protect the right to vote by making voter deception a federal crime.

In the 2006 election, there were numerous examples of efforts to deceive or intimidate voters to keep them away from the polls.  In the last election, examples of voter deception or intimidation were many.  For example, voters witnessed dirty tricks like flyers with the wrong date to vote posted in minority communities.  Letters in Spanish were sent to voters in Orange County, California stating that it was a crime for an immigrant to vote.  In fact, legal immigrants who are naturalized citizens have the right to vote just as any other American citizen can.  In Virginia, voters received calls from a so-called “Virginia Elections Commission” informing them falsely that they were ineligible to vote.  In Maryland, flyers were handed out on election day in minority communities that gave the impression that Republican candidates for office were Democratic candidates. These dirty tricks are not new.  In 2002, flyers were distributed in public housing complexes in Louisiana, telling people that they could cast their votes three days after election day if the weather was bad.

It is time to stop these outrageous tactics; this bill creates a new offense of voter deception.  Under current law, it is not a crime to attempt to deceive or mislead voters regarding elections, candidates or voting procedures.  This bill establishes a new federal crime for knowingly communicating false information about a federal election with the intent to prevent others from voting.  The bill covers the key information most critical for reaching the polls - facts like where, when and how you can vote; whether you are eligible to vote; and whether an organization has actually endorsed a candidate.  When voters are being misled about these core facts, the right to vote is nothing more than a hollow promise.  It is a real threat to the right to vote when individuals or groups are deliberately lying about something as basic - yet as important - as the date of an election.  These types of voter deception are the poll taxes of today.  The bill sets a penalty of up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for anyone convicted of voter deception.

The bill also increases the penalty for voter intimidation.  Under current law, voter intimidation is already a crime.  This bill increases the maximum penalty for voter intimidation from one year to five years in prison.  Someone who tries to keep voters away from the polls with threats should not be released with a slap on the wrist and this bill will create real penalties for this crime.

In addition, the bill also calls upon the Justice Department to correct and prevent misinformation campaigns.  Finally, the bill directs the Attorney General to immediately respond to any reports of false election information, and to take steps to provide correct information to affected voters.  The Attorney General would also have to convey reports of deceptive voter information to appropriate federal and state authorities and to the Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department.  In addition, the bill directs the Attorney General to create a Voting Integrity Task Force to oversee these actions.