Those of you with ridiculously detailed memories may recall that back in November 2005, I diaried about Sen. Obama's Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2005, which was designed to prevent political operatives from doing things like telling voters that if they didn't pay their parking tickets, they'd be arrested at the polls, or that if you had a family member who had been convicted of a crime, you'd be ineligible to vote.
But that was 2005, and we weren't in charge, and the bill didn't go anywhere.
Welcome to 2007, where today Sens. Obama and Schumer introduced the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007, a bill which is largely the same -- except for the new parts which are different, largely in light of the deceptive practices unleashed in Maryland's 2006 Republican campaigns.
You can read the text of the bill here (fixed). Basically, it makes it a crime (and allows a private right of action) for anyone to, within 60 days before a federal election:
- lie about the time, place or manner of the election;
- lie about voter eligibility, whether regarding an individual's eligibility or general qualifications to vote;
- lie about the party affiliation of someone running in a primary; or
- lie about an endorsement by any person or candidate.
To be liable, the speaker must know that the information is false, and intend that the commucation prevent someone from exercising the right to vote, intend to "confuse or unduly influence voters", or intend to "damage the integrity of the election process".
People for the American Way likes the bill, as does the NYT editorial board; conservative blogger Ed Morrissey regards it as too broad, inviting too many election-related lawsuits and chilling free speech. He certainly has a point, but I tentatively believe that the intent prong is crafted narrowly enough to (a) survive constitutional challenge (narrowly tailored to support the compelling state interest in protecting the right to vote) and (b) dissuade frivolous litigation. I am decidedly not a fan of legislation which seeks to reform elections by limiting the speech about them, but I do think, on the balance, this is good law.