This Election: Deceptive Practices 2.0?

Report exposes new generation of online voter suppression

Amid daily reports of voter suppression and dirty tricks in the 2008 Presidential election, major civil rights organizations today released a report exposing a worrying new generation of online deceptive practices designed to mislead and intimidate voters. The report, released by Common Cause, The Century Foundation and The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is entitled Deceptive Practices 2.0: Legal And Policy Responses and describes potential online dirty tricks to disseminate false or misleading information over the Internet.

Its release follows recent media accounts of deceptive emails targeting Texas voters with misinformation about the functionality of voting machines in that state. In the last several election cycles, deceptive practices have been common: often targeted at minorities, these dirty tricks have taken many forms, from false flyers to misleading “robocalls.” Now, experts fear the widespread circulation of false information disseminated via the Internet, email and other new media. The report also examines existing state and federal laws that might be used to stop these troubling scams, finding that while many laws are not adequate, some laws currently on the books in many states can be used to address online voter suppression.

Reporters and bloggers are also invited to join an informal roundtable discussing these reports in more depth from 2-3pm at EPIC’s offices at 1718 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC. To RSVP to this roundtable please call 202-483-1140 x 111.

“Misinformation campaigns, such as false flyers or intimidating robocalls, often aimed at minority communities, are not new,” said Tova Wang, Common Cause vice president for research. “What this report demonstrates is the very real danger that in this election these tactics will be replicated online. Given what we’ve already seen during this presidential campaign and the Internet rumors already circulating, the much more widespread dissemination of false information through the Internet is a real danger.”

“Our organizations have always been dedicated to giving voters the tools they need to make sure they are able to cast a meaningful ballot,” said Jonah Goldman, director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We realize that in the digital age, we need to inform voters as to how to protect themselves against these new scams.”

The report examines state anti-hacking and computer crimes laws, as well as state laws regarding the unauthorized use of state seals and the impersonation of public officials. At the federal level, the report analyses the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the Can-Spam Act in stopping online misinformation campaigns. It also makes recommendations for how these state and federal laws might be improved to stop the kind of efforts to misinform voters that have proliferated during this presidential campaign.

Common Cause and Election Protection are also requesting that anyone who receives an email with false information or sees a spoofed website with misinformation forward that information by going to or forwarding suspect email messages to Voters can also call the Election Protection Hotline, 866-OURVOTE to report any deceptive practices or receive voting information.