Dan Tokaji's Blog
Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Wednesday, January 31
The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Bill
Senators Obama and Schumer today introduced a bill (S. 1975) designed to stop deceptive practices and the intimidation of voters. The NY Times has this story and this editorial supporting the bill.

The bill arises from concerns about false and misleading practices that have been reported in recent elections, targeted especially at African American, Latino, and Native American communities. Among the practices that have prompted concern are false information being disseminated about when to vote (e.g., Republicans voter on Tuesday, Democrats on Wednesday), and initimidation of immigrant voters. Another practice cited is a pamphlet with features of black Democrats, falsely indicating that they were supporting Republican candidates in the 2006 elections.

The bill would target practices which deceive voters about the "time, place, or manner" of conducting federal elections, or about qualifications for voting in federal elections. The prohibition on such practices would be enforceable both through criminal penalties (1 year imprisonment and a $100,000 fine) and through private lawsuits. In addition, the bill would allow the Department of Justice to investigate reports of deceptive acts concerning the time or date of elections and qualifications for voting.

Civil rights groups such as the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and People for the American Way have chimed in to support the bill. Opponents are sure to argue that the bill infringes on First Amendment free speech rights, by imposing a prior restraint on speech. This is something that warrants careful consideration, even though there are strong countervailing interests in protecting the right to vote. It will be interesting to see whether this bill gets any traction.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University