J.B. Wogan
By J.B. Wogan July 25, 2012

Bill remains stuck in committee

During his days in the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama introduced the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act. The bill, which Obama said he would sign as president, makes a crime out of any attempt -- within 90 days of a federal election -- to scare or mislead people into changing their vote or not voting at all.

In the past few months, complaints about voter suppression have grabbed headlines because of controversial new state voter ID laws. They've generally been supported by Republicans who say they rightly target fraud but opposed by Democrats who say they are concerned that the stricter ID requirements make it harder to vote.

"Rather than increasing access, we have seen restrictive voting laws spring up in various parts of the country,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, at a committee hearing in June.

Many of the civil rights advocacy organizations that oppose state voter ID laws also support the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act. The bill would empower the Justice Department to prosecute people for voter intimidation and deception and to correct false information shared with voters. It would also give citizens the right to stop deceptive practices by filing a lawsuit. You can read a more detailed summary of the bill here.

Reasons for the bill: lies and threats

What are deceptive practices? Telling residents in a public housing project that it would be okay to vote after election day; warning eligible voters that they could be put in jail if they vote with an outstanding parking ticket; or calling people at their homes to say that they're not eligible to vote, so they can stay home. This misinformation often comes from a robocall or flier.

This 2007 report from the Senate Judiciary Committee details seven recent historical examples of deceptive practices, including those mentioned above. All but one involve black or Latino voters being the targets of deception. Several civil rights experts have testified to Congress that these election tactics come at the expense of minorities.

The voting reform Congress couldn't pass

Congress has never passed the bill, making it impossible for Obama fulfill his pledge to sign it. Obama introduced it twice as a senator, and other senators re-introduced it twice after he became president. Its best chance so far was in 2007 when it passed on the House side and a companion bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That year, the full Senate never took a vote.

A 2008 op-ed in CQ Weekly argued that Obama's status as a presidential candidate doomed the bill to fail because Obama's time was split between campaign duties and Senate responsibilities; plus, Republican were not likely to give him a victory by passing the bill during an election year.

The bill's prospects look no better this election year. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, are sponsoring the current version of the bill, which got a hearing in June in the Senate Judiciary Committee. As of this writing, it only has a handful of co-sponsors, no Republican support, and hasn't received a committee vote. A companion bill in the House hasn't received a hearing and has no support from members -- other than the original author.  

The president hasn't spoken about the issue in media interviews, public speeches or written statements to Congress, though Attorney General Eric Holder expressed support for the bill in a speech late last year.

Obama hasn't signed the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act into law, and it doesn't seem likely that will change in 2012. (If it does, we'll revisit the promise.) For now, we rate this a Promise Broken.

Lukas Pleva
By Lukas Pleva November 2, 2009

Bill pending in Congress

During the campaign, Barack Obama said the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act would be an important step toward strengthening civil rights enforcement. The bill would:

* Increase the penalty for voter intimidation from one year in prison to five years.

* Provide a mechanism for people to report false election information or voter intimidation to the U.S. attorney general.

*Direct the attorney general to review all claims of false election information or intimidation, provide correct information to the affected parties and refer the case to appropriate authorities for prosecution.

President Obama"s connection with the proposal goes back to November 2005, when he introduced a bill with a similar title and purpose in the U.S. Senate. The bill never got out of committee. He reintroduced the bill in January 2007. Though the bill came out of committee, a floor vote never took place. Several months earlier, however, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, an Illinois Democrat who is now Obama"s chief of staff, was able to get a similar version of the bill passed through the House.

On Jan. 6, 2009, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2009. The 2009 bill is similar, though not identical, to Obama"s 2005 bill. The last congressional action took place on June 12, 2009, when the bill was referred to the subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.

The bill is being considered in Congress and we rate this promise In the Works.

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