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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

punish electoral deceit

[I testified earlier today before the New York City Council's Government Operations Committee. I spoke in favour of the first of three bills proposed by Council Member Darlene Mealy to support voting reform. Res. 784, the subject of today's hearing, calls on the U.S. Congress to toughen penalties for deliberately misleading voters by passing S.453. The House passed its version of the bill, H.R. 1281, on June 25, 2007. A slightly modified version of my written statement to the committee appears below.]

Opening Statement of Jeff Strabone

New York City Council
Governmental Operations Committee

Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Hearing Room, 250 Broadway, 14th Floor

Chairperson: Simcha Felder
Committee Members
Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr.
Inez E. Dickens
Erik Martin Dilan
Domenic M. Recchia, Jr.
Larry B. Seabrook
Peter F. Vallone, Jr.

Res 784 - By Council Members Mealy, Avella, Brewer, Dickens, Fidler, Foster, Gonzalez, James, Mendez, Palma, Seabrook, Vann, Weprin, White Jr. and Sanders Jr. - Resolution urging the United States Congress to pass S. 453, the "Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007," introduced by Senator Barack Obama, which prohibits deceptive practices in Federal elections.

Good morning, Chairman Felder and members of the Committee. My name is Jeff Strabone. I am an activist and inventor of patent-pending voting technology. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today on Res. 784, urging the U.S. Congress to pass the Obama-Schumer Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007.

In a democratic republic such as ours, no laws are more important than those protecting the right to vote. But from time to time it becomes necessary to update those laws. Legislation is, by its nature, fundamentally reactive. New forms of bad behavior break out across the land, and government has to play catchup to legislate against the new wrongdoing.

Election fraud is as old as elections. It's sad to say, but true nonetheless, that there will always be individuals who strive to manipulate elections for partisan gain. It is up to the people and their representatives in government to try to keep up with those who would subvert our elections and, thereby, our republic.

Members of the Committee, the manipulators of our elections have been busy these past several years, and it's past time for us to catch up to all their anti-democratic machinations.

That is why I ask you to lend the support of the City of New York to S. 453, the Obama-Schumer Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007.

Let me tell you some of the most recent innovations in electoral skulduggery, and I am going to borrow here from the language in the bill, the Congressional Record, and the October 4, 2007 report of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

1. Deceiving naturalized citizens about their right to vote.

"In the 2006 midterm election, 14,000 Latino voters in Orange County, California received mailings from the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, warning them in Spanish that "if you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that can result in incarceration". In fact, an immigrant who is a naturalized citizen of the United States has the same right to vote as any other citizen."
(Source: Text of S. 453, Section 2 (6).)

2. Deceiving voters about endorsements.

"In 2006, as well, fliers were handed out on election day in Maryland that gave the impression that top Republican candidates for office were Democratic candidates and were endorsed by prominent African Americans. These fliers were a clear and deliberate attempt to mislead voters."
(Source: Senator Schumer, Congressional Record, January 31, 2007, page 1428.)

3. Deceiving voters about criminal penalties for voting.

"In Virginia, registered voters received recorded calls that falsely stated that the recipient of the call was registered in another State and would face criminal charges if they came to the polls."
(Source: Senator Schumer, Congressional Record, January 31, 2007, page 1428.)

4. Deceiving voters about the day of the election.

"In 2002, fliers were distributed in public housing complexes in Louisiana, telling people that they could cast their votes 3 days after election day if the weather was bad."
(Source: Senator Schumer, Congressional Record, January 31, 2007, page 1428.)

and 5. Deceiving voters about ID requirements.

"In 2004, Native American voters in South Dakota were prevented from voting after they did not provide photographic identification upon request, despite the fact that they were not required to present such identification in order to vote under State or Federal law."
(Source: Text of S. 453, Section 2 (7).)

These techniques are typically directed against minority groups, new voters, the elderly, the disabled, naturalized citizens, and the formerly incarcerated.

What all of these democracy-thwarting techniques have in common is deceit. They are designed to deceive people into not even showing up to vote at the polls. In other words, the votes are suppressed before they are even cast. With all the national attention to voting machine irregularities, the manipulators of elections are developing more and more ways of committing electoral fraud even without ballot- and machine-tampering.

That is why it is essential to support S. 453. The bill will criminalize deceit designed to suppress turnout. It prohibits any person from "knowingly deceiving any other person regarding: (1) the time, place, or manner of conducting any federal election; or (2) the qualifications for or restrictions on voter eligibility for any such election".

The bill:

• "Makes intent to prevent another person from exercising the right to vote an essential element of the offense."

• "Creates a private right of action for any person aggrieved by a violation of such prohibition."

• "Prescribes a criminal penalty for such deceptive acts."

• "Directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and, if appropriate, amend the federal sentencing guidelines and policy statements applicable to persons convicted of any offense under this Act."

• "Authorizes any person to report to the Attorney General false election information."

• "Requires the Attorney General, immediately after receiving such a report, to consider and review it and, if there is a reasonable basis to find that false information has been communicated, to: (1) undertake all effective measures necessary to provide correct information to voters affected by the false information; (2) refer any pertinent matter to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice for prosecution; and (3) refer the matter to the appropriate federal and state authorities for criminal prosecution or civil action after the election."

• "Directs the Attorney General to study the feasibility of providing such corrective information through public service announcements, the emergency alert system, or other forms of public broadcast."


• "Authorizes the Attorney General to establish a Voting Integrity Task Force."

(Source: Congressional Research Service, bill digest.)

The bill provides for civil penalties and criminal punishment of up to five years in prison or a $100,000 fine.

Members of the Committee, we need this law and we need it now, if not yesterday. We need to get tough on electoral fraud by increasing the penalties for knowingly deceiving voters about the time, place, and manner of elections.

I can understand why this law was not already on the books: who could have foreseen that this would be the direction that electoral fraud would take? But now that we know the latest innovations in thwarting our democracy, we are obligated to act, and to act promptly.

Members of the Committee, at our very next election, we will choose not only a new Congress but a new President as well. Let us do all that we can to urge Congress to pass this law now, in time for 2008. Our duty to democracy demands it.

Thank you.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Done, Jeff.
This centuries old problem must be brought to light. While students of American History know of the deceitful practices,intimidation and sometime outright violence perpetrated by Tammany Hall, Carpetbaggers, the Know-Nothings, etc. in the name of_____________(fill in any political party).The general populace is, regrettably,ignorant of past and, more importantly, present attempts to steal elections by chicanery and fraud. Democracy can only thrive if all people are franchised and allowed to participate in the process.
I am reminded of a past generation's rallying call, POWER TO THE PEOPLE.

1:39 AM, November 14, 2007


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