For Immediate Release
Study Urges Federal and State Lawmakers, Election Officials, to Protect Voters from Bullying, Misinformation Campaigns
New report highlights threat to voting rights from political vandalism
WASHINGTON - Political vandals armed with computer-controlled telephones and the email addresses of millions of voters have a clear path to sabotage elections across America this November and in most states are likely to get away with it, Common Cause and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law warn in a report released today.
The detailed study, Deceptive Election Practices and Voter Intimidation:
The Need for Voter Protection, highlights a variety of well-organized attempts to bully or misinform targeted groups of voters to keep them away from the polls. It calls on Congress, state legislatures and election officials to strengthen laws against political pillaging and better enforce those already on the books.
The report also includes the draft of a model state law on voters’ rights, which would ban the deliberate dissemination of false information on the time, place and manner of voting. The law would permit citizens to seek court orders to stop false information campaigns, and require the government to immediately publicize corrective information.
“The voting rights of tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Americans are at risk,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “By using automated phone calls and online tools like Facebook and Twitter, overzealous partisans can disseminate thousands of official looking messages directing voters to bogus polling places or misleading them about voting hours and voter identification requirements. In too many states and localities, our election laws and authorities are ill-equipped to respond to this threat.”
“Intentionally deceiving voters in an attempt to prevent them from voting for their candidates is the real fraud being perpetrated in our elections,” said Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director Barbara Arnwine. “As our nation recently celebrated its birthday, it’s time federal and state legislators take the necessary steps to protect voters against these nefarious tactics and help restore Americans’ faith in our democracy.”
The 33-page report includes case studies of Election Day sabotage in nine states, including:
• Email messages on Election Day 2008 informing students at George Mason University in Virginia that voting had been postponed for 24 hours. Text messages sent to University of Florida students that day said Tuesday voting was for Republicans only, with Wednesday reserved for Democrats.
• More than 100,000 Election Day 2010 robocalls to predominately African-American precincts in Maryland advising supporters of incumbent Gov. Martin O’Malley that O’Malley’s re-election was secure and they needn’t bother to vote. A top aide to Republican Bob Ehrlich was convicted of violating state election laws for his role in the case.
• Facebook messages distributed by a Mississippi pastor advising voters opposed to a “personhood amendment” to the state Constitution that because of anticipated high turnout they should vote on Wednesday, the day after the actual election.
• Phone calls directed at residents of two Philadelphia wards in 2008 advised the recipients that Latino residents would be restricted to voting between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Election Day.
Along with the passage of new legislation, the report urges tougher enforcement of voter protection laws already in effect. “Even in states with some type of law to protect against deceptive election practices, there is a slim record of enforcement,” the study asserts. That makes it all the more important for authorities to declare publicly that future violators will be prosecuted.
“Once the deceptive information has been disseminated the damage is already done. That’s why it’s important for state and federal governments to immediately publicize correct information so no voter is turned away or votes improperly,” Arnwine added.
“It’s tempting to dismiss these activities as ‘dirty tricks,’” Edgar said. “In fact, they’re serious crimes, directed not just against the voters who might be denied their rights, but against our democracy itself. It’s time we investigate, prosecute and punish them with the seriousness they deserve.”
Edgar added that as Election Day approaches, Common Cause, the Lawyers’ Committee and other groups will be recruiting citizen volunteers to identify and focus public and official attention on attempts to mislead or intimidate voters.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.