ACLU Letter to the House Supporting H.R. 1281, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007

Dear Representatives:

On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, a non-partisan organization with hundreds of thousands of activists and members and 53 affiliates nationwide, we write to applaud your efforts to expose deceptive practices in voting and to express our support for H.R. 1281, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act.  This legislation is intended to address the very real problem of deceptive campaign communications in federal elections.  If deceptive voting practices are not prohibited many voters will be prevented from exercising their right to vote, which is at the very core of our democracy.  While we support the legislation, we also ask that you make two changes discussed in this letter to improve the legislation.

During the 2006 midterm elections season, voters across the country were confronted with inaccurate information about their eligibility to vote and candidate endorsements.  These deceptive voting practices often result in voters opting not to exercise one of the most fundamental rights in our democratic system of government their right to vote.  H.R. 1281 addresses these deceptive practices by holding people criminally and civilly accountable for tactics that are commonly intended to infringe minority communities’ ability to vote.  The bill would also require the Department of Justice to report to Congress on the frequency of voter deception and the effectiveness of corrective action taken prior to the elections.  

While the ACLU supports the House version of the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act, we will work with Members of Congress to retain the requirement that the crime of deceptive practices take place “60 days before a Federal election.” We agree that incorrect information disseminated to the public about eligibility to register to vote and vote is very difficult to correct.  Thus, it is important that intentionally false information that is circulated about voter qualifications with the intent to disenfranchise people be prohibited at anytime before or after an election. However, the other categories of false speech addressed in the bill such as time, place, and manner of elections and the candidate's party affiliation in closed primary election system are not as difficult to correct and restrictions on this type of false political speech should be limited to sixty days before an election. Sixty days before a federal election would provide a more than enough time to correct incorrect information about polling dates and locations as well as candidate’s political party affiliation.

Also, we urge Congress to consider amending the possible five-year prison sentence for voter intimidation and deceptive practices that the bill would impose for a non-violent crime.    Instead, we urge that the maximum sentence be one year, which is the current penalty for voter intimidation in 18 U.S.C. Sec. 594.  In addition, we encourage you to ensure that any voter information relied upon in a prosecution, civil action or report to Congress is used in a manner that protects voters’ privacy. If voters know that their personal information will be kept private, it will encourage the public to report deceptive practices violations and not fear retribution.

The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act addresses real problems in voting and we are pleased to be able to support the House version of the bill. 

Sincerely,                               

Caroline Fredrickson 
Director
                                                                                                   Jesselyn McCurdy
Legislative Counsel

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