Years after Jim Crow laws were struck down, operatives continue to use all means to suppress minority voting

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee with jurisdiction over federal elections, and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced legislation calling for federal action against voter intimidation and deceptive practices designed to stop Americans from voting. Historically, certain citizens, especially racial and ethnic minorities, were prevented from voting because of significant barriers like literacy tests and poll taxes. While constitutional amendments and voting rights legislation have removed some of the systemic barriers to voting, new tactics emerge every election cycle to suppress voter participation by intimidating or intentionally misleading voters.

The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act seeks to help by:  

  • Prohibiting individuals from knowingly deceiving others about the time, place, eligibility, or procedures of participating in a federal election;
  • Addressing new digital challenges that pose a threat to citizens exercising their right to vote, particularly the use of digital platforms to disseminate false information regarding federal elections; and,
  • Combating voter intimidation, especially efforts aimed at suppressing voting rights.

Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Chairman of the House Judiciary committee, and Representative A. Donald McEachin (D-VA-4) filed companion legislation in the House of Representatives. Senate cosponsors include Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). The legislation is endorsed by the Brennan Center for Justice and Democracy 21. 

“Our country is stronger when more people participate in our democracy. While we have made important progress in protecting the right to vote, there are still people working to disenfranchise Americans, especially minorities,” Klobuchar said. “Foreign adversaries and those here at home who are working to block people from the ballot box have developed new tactics to intimidate voters and spread deceptive information about elections. This bill would ensure that those who seek to undermine the integrity of our elections by deceiving voters face consequences.”

“The use of deceptive practices and voter intimidation tactics are not new, but technology has brought such activity online and made it harder to trace the culprits. Reliably, these tactics seem to target minority neighborhoods and are blatant attempts to reduce turnout,” Cardin said. “Voting forms the bedrock of our democracy, so we should all want to encourage greater participation in our electoral system – not less. Congress must take action to combat deceptive practices designed to stop Americans from exercising their right to vote.”

“Voting is one of the fundamental pillars of democracy,” Nadler said. “Although we have come a long way since the horrors of the past where African Americans were blatantly prohibited from voting based on the color of their skin, modern day tactics to stifle the vote and prevent minorities from having their voices heard persist. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation that will mitigate these deceptive practices and help protect the vote for every American.”

“A citizen’s ability to vote is an essential part of a well-functioning democracy,” McEachin said. “Unfortunately, all too often, we have witnessed attempts to mislead or outright lie to voters about voting. In recent elections, we have seen numerous misinformation campaigns and intimidation tactics, including calls to voters claiming they are no longer registered to vote, online graphics spreading false information about Election Day, and reports of people standing outside polling places with barking dogs. This is unacceptable and it is clear we need protections against attempts to fraudulently influence our democracy. I am proud to introduce this legislation to help protect voters and combat those who seek to improperly influence our elections.”

Examples of deceptive practices include:

  • In 2018, there were attempts to mislead voters in both Florida and Georgia, which included robocalls from a white supremacist group pretending to be gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams.
  • In 2016, accounts tied to Russia circulated misinformation targeted to African American groups. The messages contained incorrect information about voting, and were designed to sow division. 
  • In 2012, Billboards displaying the words “VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY” appeared in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Columbus.
  • In previous elections, thousands of voters reportedly received postcards providing false information about voter eligibility and warnings about criminal penalties for voter fraud.

The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act would:

  • Enact penalties, including a fine of no more than $100,000 and/or imprisonment for no more than 5 years, for individuals who engage in voter intimidation.
  • Give the Attorney General the responsibility to ensure that states are taking adequate steps to counter voter intimidation. The bill also requires the Attorney General to, no later than 180 days after each general election for federal office, submit a public report to Congress compiling all allegations of deceptive practices received by the Attorney General.
  • Emphasize that voter intimidation by the spreading of false information is not protected under the First Amendment.

Klobuchar has been leading the fight to protect our future elections from foreign interference. Last month, Klobuchar introduced the Election Security Act with 40 Senate cosponsors. The Election Security Act would require backup paper ballots, provide $1 billion in election security grants to states for cybersecurity improvements and audits, strengthen federal response to election security interference, and establish accountability measures for election technology vendors.

Last month, Klobuchar also reintroduced the Honest Ads Act with Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to help prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements. Graham carries on the bipartisan legacy of the bill from the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ), former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election by buying and placing political ads on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. The content and purchaser(s) of those online advertisements are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology. The Honest Ads Act would prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite.

In December 2017, Klobuchar introduced the Secure Elections Act with Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Burr (R-NC), Mark Warner (D-VA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) to strengthen election cybersecurity in America and protect against foreign interference in future elections. The Secure Elections Act would streamline cybersecurity information-sharing between federal intelligence entities and state election agencies; provide security clearances to state election officials; and provide resources for states to upgrade election security. Senators Klobuchar and Lankford are currently working to re-introduce the Secure Election Act. 

Klobuchar has also led on other election security legislation including the Global Electoral Exchange Act and the Invest in Our Democracy Act of 2019.

Klobuchar has sent numerous letters urging departments, agencies, and private companies to improve election security. This week, Klobuchar and Senator Ron Wyden (R-OR) sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) asking for an explanation of their response to the suspected Russian hack of VR Systems, a Florida-based election software company. In April she led a letter the DHS and FBI to establish a task force combining the efforts of social media platforms, local election officials, and also reporters and independent researchers, in finding and stopping disinformation and misinformation campaigns. In March, Klobuchar and the Ranking Members of the Committees on Homeland Security, Armed Services, and Intelligence sent a letter to the three biggest voting machine companies in the US asking tough questions about election security.  Klobuchar has also sent numerous letters to the DHS and its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), urging them to prioritize election security measures.