The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.


National Issues

Obama-Schumer and the Advance of Voter-Centered Reform PDF  | Print |  Email
By Bob Bauer   
February 03, 2007

This article was posted at Bob Bauer's Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.


Among the early criticisms of the Obama-Schumer “deceptive practices” bill is an odd one: that it is an incumbent protection statute. An understandable reaction to any form of regulated “campaign speech”, it is here misplaced. At its core, Obama-Schumer takes up the cause of voters, not of candidates, which distinguishes it from much of the campaign regulation in recent decades. 


This distinctiveness emerges with particular clarity when Obama-Schumer is compared to the last “dirty tricks” provision enacted by the Congress, in the wake of Watergate.That was mainly a candidate self-protection measure. In the difference between the two statutes can be seen a shift of regulatory attention from the needs of candidates to the rights of voters, and this, in the period of preoccupation with election reform in the voters’ interests, suggests the importance of Obama-Schumer.


Obama-Schumer’s strategy in addressing deceptive practices—false information disseminated with the intention of subverting rights, in full knowledge of its falsity—is comprehensive, consisting of several parts:  a private right of action; criminal penalties; corrective action by the Attorney General to affirm truthful information and to reassure voters; and the compilation of information about these practices in reports to the Congress. The private right of action for “preventive relief", available to any “person aggrieved” by a violation, has attracted some unfavorable notice.   


Ed Morrissey, for examples, imagines an explosion of lawsuits and a crushing cost, assessed for raw political advantage, imposed on their victims. Other will see peril, too, in the provisions establishing this type of violation as the basis for criminal prosecution. To be balanced against this is the specificity with which the bill defines the types of information that, communicated with knowledge of falsity, gives rise to liability. The bill is focused on four types: the time, place and manner of any election; the qualifications for or restrictions on voter eligibility; the political party affiliation of candidates in closed primaries; and the explicit characterization of endorsements. In each instance, there is some history—a concrete background of abuse, some of which is set out in the bill's Findings—which supplies additional definition to the objective of the measure and might mitigate some of the concern about overbroad, unconstitutional application.


The debate that will take place along these lines is to be welcomed. For it is the occasion for a genuine reckoning, at long last, with the serious problem of concerted, well financed and organized efforts to trick, confuse and intimidate voters with false information intended to stop them from voting. In this day and age, when the more brutal methods of the past have become too risky, the deliberate lie has come into vogue, and it is seen in election after election. The magnitude of the problem is undetermined, in part because the activity by its nature is designed to elude measurement. But another reason for the absence of data is that there has been no systematic undertaking to pursue measurement, which is not surprising when, to this moment, there has been little inclination to do anything about it. 


Obama-Schumer forces the issue, as it should, and increases the chance that a response to these deceptive practices will be added to the election reform agenda. It is hard to see that this agenda, developed to protect the franchise, would be complete without attention to some such response, in the interests of the voters who are increasingly, and rightly, the beneficiaries of reform.

Comment on This Article
You must login to leave comments...
Other Visitors Comments
You must login to see comments...
< Prev   Next >
National Pages
Federal Government
Federal Legislation
Help America Vote Act (HAVA)
Election Assistance Commission (EAC)
Federal Election Commission
Department of Justice - Voting Section
Non-Government Institutions
Independent Testing Authority
The Election Center
Carter Baker Commission
Voting System Standards
Electoral College
Open Source Voting System Software
Proposed Legislation
Voting Rights
Campaign Finance
Overseas/Military Voting
Electronic Verification
: mosShowVIMenu( $params ); break; } ?>