US Senator Decries Voter Intimidation Tactics at Hearing
“We thought the days of disenfranchising minority voters were over but they’re not,” testified Senator Ben Cardin before the Senate Judiciary Committee on S. 1944, the “Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act.”
Undertaking the unusual practice of a senator testifying before a Senate committee, Sen. Cardin detailed the well-known robo-calling incident in Maryland in 2010. But, the extent of deceptive practices in elections extends far beyond Maryland. Sen. Cardin referenced other incidents in Houston, while other witnesses, particularly Tanya Clay House, director of Public Policy at Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, noted similar practices in Ohio and Philadephia. At Virginia Tech, students were told that if they registered to vote, they would lose their scholarships and their parents could no longer claim them as dependents, she said.
Once the chairing of the hearing was yielded to Senator Chuck Schumer, the bill’s sponsor, he wasted no time in decrying the practices he believes necessitate the bill’s enactment.
“Despicable, just despicable” he repeated over and over, in response to testimony on the most egregious incident that entailed calling voters in targeted areas to defraud them into believing that, due to anticipated overcrowding at the polls, voting for the supporters of one party would be postponed by one day (until the day after Election Day).
Notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence to justify S. 1994, the bill’s opponents focused instead on trumped-up First Amendment concerns. As the minority’s witness, John Park, Jr. repeated throughout his testimony that he was concerned about the chilling effect that the legislation would have on free speech. Nonetheless, Senator Patrick Leahy assured the Committee that the bill was narrowly tailored so that one must know that he or she is disseminating materially false information (which is explicitly defined in the Act) and intends to mislead voters or interfere with someone’s exercise of the franchise. As Sen. Schumer pointed out, one can’t falsely yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, so why should this be any different?
All in all, the hearing was a success. A filled-to-capacity room (and the good viewers on C-Span 3) was enlightened as to the “despicable” practices besmirching our democracy. Sen. Leahy issued the clarion call best: something must be done when “millions of eligible voters are finding it harder to cast ballots.”
Read Project Vote’s testimony here.