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.
CQ.com, Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act: Report with additional views to accompany S. 453: Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007 (subscription)
Senate Judiciary Committee, Statement by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., June 26, 2012
American Civil Liberties Union, Voter suppression in America
American Civil Liberties Union, Voter suppression measures passed since 2011
GovTrack.us, S. 1975 (109th): Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2005
GovTrack.us, H.R. 4463 (109th): Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2005
GovTrack.us, S. 4069 (109th): Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2006
GovTrack.us, H.R. 1281 (110th): Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007
GovTrack.us, S. 453 (110th): Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007
GovTrack.us, H.R. 97 (111th): Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2009
GovTrack.us, S. 1994 (112th): Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011
GovTrack.us, H.R. 5815 (112th): Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2012
CQ Weekly, Obama Sponsorship Might Doom Campaign Bill, April 7, 2008 (subscription)
Netroots Nation, The War on Voting, June 9, 2012
The New York Times, FiveThirtyEight blog, Measuring the Effects of Voter Identification Laws, July 15, 2012
Mother Jones, UFO Sightings Are More Common Than Voter Fraud, July 2012
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Citizens without proof: a survey of Americans' possession of documentary proof of citizenship and photo identification, Nov. 28, 2006
The Nation, How to Disenfranchise 18 Percent of Philadelphia's Electorate, July 6, 2012
The Nation, Discriminatory Texas voter ID law challenged in federal court, July 9, 2012
Senate Judiciary Committee, testimony of Jenny Flanagan, director of Voting and Elections at Common Cause, June 26, 2012
The Washington Post, Florida's voter purge explained, June 18, 2012
House Resolution 5799, Voter Empowerment Act of 2012, May 17, 2012
Common Cause, Got ID? Helping Americans Get Voter Identification, April 2012
Minnesota Public Radio, MPR News Primer: Voter ID, March 5, 2012
South Carolina State Election Commission, SEC releases findings on "dead voters” investigation, Feb. 23, 2012
South Carolina State Election Commission, SEC Executive Director Testifies on "Dead Voters” Claim, Jan. 25, 2012
Sen. Ben Cardin, Op-Ed: Deceptive voter practices cannot be tolerated, Jan. 3, 2012
Justice Department, Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Dec. 13, 2011
Minnesota Public Radio, PoliGraph: Voter fraud claim inconclusive, Oct. 21, 2011
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, The Map of Shame, 2011
South Carolina State Election Commission, New Photo ID Requirements Blocked by DOJ, Rules for Voting Do Not Change, Dec. 23, 2011
The New York Times, Justice Dept. Cites Race in Halting Law Over Voter ID, Dec. 23, 2011
CQ Weekly, New Voting Laws Spur Fairness Debate, Sept. 5, 2011 (subscription)
NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Educational Fund, Defending Democracy: Confronting Barriers to Voting Rights in America, Dec. 16, 2011
Senate Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011, Dec. 14, 2011
Rolling Stone, The GOP war on voting, Aug. 30, 2011,
CQ Weekly, Voting-Rights Groups Still on Guard, Nov. 10, 2008 (subscription)
CQ Weekly, Democrats Back Bill to Criminalize Intimidation, Deception of Voters, July 9, 2007 (subscription)
CQ Weekly, Voter Intimidation Legislation Approved by Panel, Sept. 10, 2007 (subscription)
CQ.com, Voter Intimidation, Deception Bill Advances in House Committee, March 29, 2007 (subscription)
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.
Obama/Biden Campaign Document,
Creating Equal Opportunity and Justice for All
, Accessed Nov. 1, 2009
Content Summary of S.1975 , Accessed Nov. 1, 2009
Action Summary of S.1975 , Accessed Nov. 1, 2009
Action Summary of H.R. 1281 , Accessed Nov. 1, 2009
Action Summary of H.R.453 , Accessed Nov. 1, 2009
Content Summary of H.R.97 , Accessed Nov. 1, 2009
Action Summary of H.R.97 , Accessed Nov. 1, 2009