Protecting Voters Against Deceptive Practices

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Hello. This is Senator Barack Obama and today is Thursday November 10, 2005. First of all for our regular podcast listeners let me apologize for missing a podcast last week. Some of you are aware of the fact that I attended Rosa Parks's funeral and spoke. We couldn't make the last minute scheduling changes in order for me to do the podcast. We're going to try to make sure that doesn't happen again, but sometimes it's unavoidable and obviously the honor of speaking at the memorial for Rosa Parks was enormous.

I want to talk today about voting and, more specifically, voter intimidation. We're coming off of an election week in which millions of American exercised one of the most important rights that we possess, the right to vote. As in every election, I hope all eligible Americans went to the polls. But, after looking at what happened over the last two presidential elections, I have some other hopes for Election Day. I hope all voters who got to the polls found voting machines that worked, that there were nonpartisan poll workers who understood the law and enforced it without bias. I hope lines went smoothly. I hope ballots made sense. I also hope voters who went to the polls this week had accurate information about what's on the ballot, what they're supposed to vote on, what our nations voting laws are.

The fact of the matter is that even in this awesome age of technical advancement and easy access to information, there are folks who will stop at nothing to deceive people and keep them away from the polls. We've got deceptive practices that all too often target and exploit vulnerable populations: African Americans, senior citizens, the poor, the disabled. Think about the story of the 2004 elections. We had voters in Milwaukee who received flyers from nonexistent "Milwaukee Black Voters League" warning them that they risked imprisonment for voting if they had ever been found guilty of an offense, even a traffic violation. In that same election in a county in Ohio some voters received mailing misinformation that said anyone registered to vote by the Kerry campaign or the NAACP would be barred from voting. You know there are a lot of tried and true tricks that are used on Election Days. A lot of times voters are warned that an unpaid parking ticket will lead to their arrest or that folks with family members who have been convicted for a crime are ineligible to vote. These warnings obviously have no basis in fact and they are made with only one goal in mind, to keep Americans away from the polls.

You know, it's not enough for us to hope that people who go to the polls are not victims of such malicious campaigns. So, this week I'm introducing the Deceptive Elections Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2005. That's a mouthful, but it's a very simple idea that we are trying to introduce. It says that there is going to be clear statutory language and authority provided to investigators to look into allegations of deceptive practices. It establishes significant harsh penalties for those who've engaged in such fraudulent practices and it seeks to address the real harms of these crimes, voters who are discouraged from voting, by establishing a process for reaching out to those who have been misinformed with accurate and full information so they can cast their votes in a timely basis.

I think the most important component of the bill are the strong penalties that we're creating for deceptive election practices so that people who commit these crimes suffer from more than just a slap on the hand. A lot of times this is engaged in by shadow organizations that are connected to campaigns, campaign workers who are overzealous. They think that this is a game and that they can't suffer any consequences. If you just have a couple of folks who are prosecuted under the law that I'm proposing and they start realizing that this is serious, I guarantee you other campaign workers and campaigns will get the message and you'll start seeing, I think, a stop to some of these shenanigans that have been taking place.

So far the legislation has the support of groups like the NAACP, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Common Cause, United Cerebral Palsy and the National Disabilities Rights Network. So, the question is, are we going to be able to get it through. I won't lie to you, every time we try to move forward with election reform there are those who block it. They think that they are advantaged in some way by preventing people from going to the polls. That's why it's so important I think that all of you who are listening get on my website make sure that you know the bill, send it around to your friends. Start generating the kinds of grassroots support for it that makes those who would potentially try to block this legislation from going forward, making them a little bit embarrassed. You know, shame is a very useful tool sometimes in politics and I think we should be ashamed if we are not doing everything we can to make sure that people can exercise their right to vote.

So, thanks everybody. Great talking to you this week. Friday of this week is Veterans Day. I hope all of us take the time to honor our veterans. They have made enormous sacrifices to ensure our freedom. We don't always look after them as well as they should when they come home and I think Friday is a good day, as every day is, to say thanks to a veteran and make sure that they understand how much we appreciate their sacrifice. Thanks for listening. Talk to you next week.