New bill attacks the real threat to our elections

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  • Dale Eisman

With America on the cusp of what promises to be a closely-contested presidential election, the voter intimidation legislation introduced by Sens. Ben Cardin and Chuck Schumer gives Congress an opportunity to reaffirm the nation’s commitment to voting rights and free and open elections, Common Cause said today.

“In too many of our states, candidates and elected officials are stoking groundless fears about ‘voter fraud’ in an attempt to justify legislation restricting voting rights,” said Bob Edgar, president of the non-partisan government watchdog group. “This proposal refocuses our attention on the real threat to the integrity of our elections – the partisan use of dirty tricks and intimidation tactics to keep tens of thousands of qualified voters away from the polls. The Senate leadership should put it on a fast-track to passage.”

The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act would ban false advertisements and other statements about the time and place of elections and voter qualifications. It also would prohibit attempts to interfere with voter registration or voting. Violators would be subject to criminal penalties, including up to 5 years in prison.

The bill’s introduction comes less than a week after a Maryland jury convicted Paul Schurick, a one-time aide to former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, of multiple felony charges stemming from his role in arranging an Election Day-2010 automated call to more than 100,000 Marylanders. Directed at African-Americans, who overwhelmingly favored Democratic incumbent Martin O’Malley over Ehrlich in the state’s gubernatorial race, the call declared that O’Malley had won re-election and advised voters they could stay home.

Edgar said the Cardin-Schumer bill would allow federal authorities to strike at voter intimidation and deception in federal elections – for President, the U.S. Senate and the House – in the same way Maryland attacked the problem in its race for governor. “These kinds of dirty tricks are an attack on our democracy and deserve a tough, federal response,” he asserted.

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