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Testimony on The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011

Testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee on The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011.

Published: June 25, 2011


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Writ­ten Testi­mony of

Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law 

Submit­ted to the

U. S. Senate

Commit­tee of the Judi­ciary


The Decept­ive Prac­tices and Voter Intim­id­a­tion Preven­tion Act of 2011 (S.1994)

June 25, 2011


Chair­man Leahy, Rank­ing Member Grass­ley, and Members of the Commit­tee, thank you for the oppor­tun­ity to submit testi­mony for the record on the crit­ical issue of decept­ive prac­tices and voter intim­id­a­tion.  The Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law writes to express its support of the Decept­ive Prac­tices and Voter Intim­id­a­tion Preven­tion Act of 2011 (S.1994), intro­duced by Senat­ors Ben Cardin and Charles Schu­mer.   

The Bren­nan Center for Justice is a nonpar­tisan think tank and legal advocacy organ­iz­a­tion that focuses on issues of demo­cracy and justice. Among other things, we seek to ensure fair and accur­ate voting proced­ures and systems and to promote policies that maxim­ize citizen enfran­chise­ment and parti­cip­a­tion in elec­tions.

S.1994 would crim­in­al­ize the know­ing and inten­tional commu­nic­a­tion of false and mislead­ing inform­a­tion about the time, place, or manner of elec­tions, and the rules govern­ing voter eligib­il­ity and voter regis­tra­tion.  It would also ensure that voters affected by decept­ive or intim­id­at­ing prac­tices are provided with correct inform­a­tion from a reli­able source in a timely manner. This would fill a signi­fic­ant gap in the laws that safe­guard the integ­rity of our elec­tions. 

Unfor­tu­nately, every elec­tion cycle, many voter­s—d­is­pro­por­tion­ately those in minor­ity communit­ies—are confron­ted with inform­a­tion designed to prevent them from voting or cast­ing mean­ing­ful ballots.  In Mary­land in 2010, a polit­ical consult­ant paid for robocalls on elec­tion night to thou­sands of African-Amer­ican house­holds that told voters, while the polls were still open, they should “relax,” because Governor O’Mal­ley had won re-elec­tion.  In 2008, messages were sent to users of the social media website Face­book falsely stat­ing that the elec­tion had been post­poned a day.  Students at some univer­sit­ies, includ­ing Flor­ida State Univer­sity received text messages stat­ing the same thing.  In 2006, voters with Latino surnames in Orange County, Cali­for­nia were sent letters wrongly suggest­ing it is illegal for natur­al­ized citizens to vote.  These are not isol­ated incid­ents.  They reflect a rash of voter decep­tion and intim­id­a­tion wholly at odds with the spirit of our demo­cracy. 

These incid­ents are bad enough. Worse still is that today in most states they are simply not against the law.  Nor is there any author­ity charged with invest­ig­at­ing these incid­ents and provid­ing voters with correc­ted inform­a­tion. S.1994 would correct these over­sights, help­ing to ensure that ill-inten­tioned indi­vidu­als do not effect­ively deprive others of their right to vote. Fair­ness and demo­cracy require no less.

In intro­du­cing this bill, Senat­ors Cardin and Schu­mer recog­nize the federal govern­ment’s compel­ling inter­est­ing in preserving the integ­rity of its elec­tion process by protect­ing voters decep­tion and intim­id­a­tion. While the First Amend­ment protects polit­ical speech, it does not protect speech that is designed to inten­tion­ally inter­fere with the abil­ity or inten­tion of Amer­ican citizens exer­cising their right to vote. Passage of this Act will give federal law enforce­ment agen­cies and private citizens the oppor­tun­ity to stop bad actors from under­min­ing Amer­ica’s elec­tions. We there­fore respect­fully urge you to pass S. 1994.