National Urban League (NUL) Submits Written Testimony to Senate Judiciary Committee in Support of Legislation to Fight Voter Deception and Intimidation
On Tuesday, June 26, 2012 the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011 (S. 1994), introduced by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). The legislation would authorize strong criminal enforcement provisions against voter deceptive and intimidation practices that have persistently occurred in past elections and as recently as the 2012 elections. These well-documented practices have been aimed at suppressing the vote of predominantly African-American and other minority groups, students, the elderly and low income populations. Examples of deceptive and voter intimidation practices that have occurred include: election fliers placed in predominantly minority communities stating that a voter can’t vote in a presidential election if the voter already voted in a primary or other election during the same year; fliers providing false information on the date of an election; dissemination of false information about the location of polling places; and automatic phone messages falsely stating that the resident is ineligible to vote and would suffer severe penalties if they cast a ballot. In addition to criminal penalties tied to such practices, S. 1994 would create a private right of action (i.e., a right to sue) the perpetrators of these deceptive practices. The legislation also authorizes any person to report to the Attorney General the existence of false election information. Especially important is the provision requiring that the Attorney General publicly correct the false information if state and local election officials have not taken adequate steps to promptly do so.
It his written testimony supporting S. 1994, National Urban League President Marc Morial stated, “Protecting each individual’s fundamental right to vote, and the implications of the power of the vote, is inextricably linked to every individual’s economic and social wellbeing and essential to preserving the very functioning of our democracy.” Morial emphasized that, “Attempts to disenfranchise American citizens, by a mal-intentioned or renegade few therefore presents an extreme and serious threat to every individual’s economic and social wellbeing.” The NUL testimony also included incidents of voter deception and intimidation practices provided by the: Urban League of Nebraska (Omaha); Pinellas County Urban League (St. Petersburg, FL); Urban League of Northwest Indiana (Gary); Urban League of Madison County (Anderson, IN); and the Urban League of Hampton Roads (Norfolk, VA). During the hearing, attended by NULPI staff, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) cited the National Urban League from among the organizations that had submitted written testimony in support of the bill to be included in the hearing record. Testimony in support of S. 1994 was also provided by representatives from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Common Cause. While Congress is not expected to enact this important legislation this year, the congressional hearing provided a key opportunity to build a record that documents voter deception and intimidation practices to make the case for future action.