The Real Voter Fraud

Voters in Alabama got this robocall last week from “Bernie Bernstein”:

I’m a reporter for The Washington Post calling to find out if anyone at this address is a female between the ages of 54 to 57 years old, willing to make damaging remarks about candidate Roy Moore for a reward of between $5,000 and $7,000. We will not be fully investigating these claims however we will make a written report.

This anti-Semitic travesty would violate Maryland law.

It is a crime to “influence or attempt to influence a voter’s voting decision through the use of force, threat, menace, intimidation, bribery, reward, or offer of reward.”

Shortly before the 2002 general election in Maryland, a flyer was distributed in neighborhoods of color urging people to vote on the Thursday after Election Day and implying that you couldn’t vote if you owed rent, child support, or parking tickets.

I responded by sponsoring the bill that made it illegal to “influence or attempt to influence a voter’s decision whether to go to the polls to cast a vote through the use of force, fraud, threat, menace, intimidation, bribery, reward, or offer of reward.” (emphasis added)

This is the fraud that is degrading our election process. Not the fake fraud that is the basis for Republican efforts to limit access to the ballot.

A new justification

I never heard this one before.

I had testified on my bill to extend early voting to the Sunday before Election Day.

“This is the next logical step in the expansion of the right to vote,” I said. “We no longer limit the franchise to white males who own property; we should no longer limit voting to 13 hours on a Tuesday.”

I was followed by Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, who said that observant Jews cannot vote on their Sabbath (Saturday), and Rev. Al Hathaway, pastor of Union Baptist Church, who spoke of the tradition of urging people from the pulpit to get out and vote.

“I’m concerned that too much pressure is being put on people to vote early,” complained a Republican delegate.  “Sunday voting would worsen that.”

The GOP has gone to great lengths to suppress minority  voting  sometimes subtly, sometimes by force of law.

This justification was new to me.  And equally unworthy.

Identifying Voter Suppression

 “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say,” according to journalist Michael Kinsley.

 A recent example from Mike Turzai, the Republican majority leader in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives:

 “Voter ID…[will] allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

 Preventing voter fraud has been the stated reason for requiring voters to display a government-issued ID if they want to cast a ballot on Election Day.

 The fraud is on you, if you’re one of the millions of Americans who don’t have IDs – predominantly the elderly, college students, and the poor.   

 Voter ID laws are a cousin to voter suppression efforts. 

 In Maryland, we have a long history of such attempts to deny the franchise:

 Voting machines didn’t work in African-American precincts in the 60’s and 70’s.

 More recently, flyers urged people to vote on the wrong date and implied that you couldn’t vote if you owed rent or child support. 

 That’s why the General Assembly adopted legislation introduced by Senator Lisa Gladden and me to make it a crime to “influence or attempt to influence a voter’s decision whether to go to the polls to cast a vote through the use of force, fraud, threat, menace, intimidation, bribery, reward, or offer of reward.” 

 This is the law that both Paul Schurick and Julius Henson violated with their Election Day 2010 robocalls that urged voters to “relax,” implying that Governor O’Malley had been successful and there was no need to vote.

 Some have said that this statute violates the First Amendment. 

 However, there are precedents for such a limit on political speech.  Statements known by the speaker to be false are afforded a lower level of First Amendment protection and securing the right to vote freely and effectively is a compelling governmental interest.

 Maryland has taken appropriate and constitutional steps to prevent the diminution of our powerful and fundamental right of American citizenship – the right to vote.

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