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Electoral Dirty Tricks Coming Soon To An In-Box Near You

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Cross-posted at Project Vote's Voting Matters Blog

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

By Erin Ferns

Election experts have already worried that the surge of newly registered voters may cause unintentional chaos through long lines and ballot shortages on Election Day. Now there is increased concern that intentional chaos may be caused by partisan forces using something that millions of Americans access every day - the Internet. Although deceiving and disenfranchising voters through political dirty tricks is a staple partisan strategy to influence election re click here the Internet may be making it easier and more effective than ever to spread misinformation, according to CNN reporter, Stephanie Busari.

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"We're seeing all sorts of ways in which these people can put out the message to first-time voters and those who are unsure of their voting rights. They are replacing the tactics we saw in previous elections cycles," says Lillie Coney of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in the CNN report.

In the recent past low-income and minority voters have been targeted by dirty tricks, including telephone calls, direct mail and leafleting. For example, during the 2004 and 2006 elections, voters were falsely informed that they could not vote if they were immigrants, had parking violations, "or even outstanding child support payments," Busari wrote.

In response, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act was introduced into the United States Senate in October 2007. Currently pending, S. 453 "makes it a federal crime to 'knowingly provide false information with the intent to disenfranchise another person in a federal election."

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As Busari reports, however, "tricksters have moved online because of the low probability of being caught, and also because anti-spam laws and 'no call' lists exempt political messages." Utilizing existing Internet scams, tricksters reach voters through phishing (fraudulent emails that direct recipients to convincingly fake Web sites in order to collect personal information), pharming (redirecting traffic from one Web site to another), typo squatting (buying rights to a misspelled versions of a candidate's Internet address and using them to "steal and potentially misinform supporters") and web-based robocalls.

"By early November, we're expecting spam emails to be sent giving the wrong location for a polling station, or, incorrect details about who has the right to vote...There's even a Web site that's offering to register voters for $9.95. Of course, it doesn't cost anything to vote," Coney said in the report. The Federal Trade Commission has recently warned people to be cautious of scammers who "may attempt to finagle personal information, including Social Security Number or even credit card information from people signing up to register," according to Penn. publication, the Morning Call. Legitimate voter registration drives, of course, will never ask for personal financial information.

"In a tight race where every voter counts, the implications are serious," Busari wrote.

But the right to full, unimpeded access to the democratic process is not solely compromised by dirty tricks that skirt the law. In many states, unfortunately, we are currently seeing attempts to suppress voters written into the election laws themselves.

Investigations have shown that voter fraud is extremely rare. Yet, citing a need to prevent illegal voting by unnaturalized immigrants, 18 states have introduced bills that would require documented proof of citizenship when registering to vote. This measure has already resulted in the rejection of approximately 40,000 registrations in Arizona, the only state to enact such a law, according to a recent News21 feature by Renee Feltz and Stokely Baksh.

Supporters of the law, who are also members of the state Republican Party, note that they did not provide any evidence of voter fraud in the state, but considered the measure a "preemptive strike," the report said. Critics say it is a solution in search of a problem, and one that is not worth the risk of disenfranchising tens of thousands of legitimate voters.

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In the News21 report, Justin Levitt of the Brennan Center for Justice explains. "If you're a non-citizen and you register or vote... there's a record that connects you to that registration and voting. And it can be - and has been - investigated" as well as prosecuted."

"And if you're convicted - which is a relatively straightforward thing if you're a non-citizen and you've actually registered and voted - you can be put in jail for five years for each count. You can be fined up to 10,000 dollars, and probably most serious, you can be deported," he said. "And in return, you get at most one incremental vote. Now for the vast majority of people...those odds just don't make sense."

The report examines how the proof-of-citizenship requirement has affected not only naturalized Latino immigrants, but even long-time American citizens who do not have access to citizenship documents, which is three percent of the U.S. population, according to the Brennan Center. Furthermore, these requirements hinder efforts to engage voters, such as voter registration drives, because voters "often don't have their proof of citizenship" at traditional registration drive sites like shopping malls.

Unfortunately, like others in recent memory, it looks like this Election Day may be plagued by issues--from administrative shortcomings to illegal scams to poorly crafted election laws - that keep voters off the rolls and away from the polls, and influence the outcome of the election. It is incumbent upon those crafting election administration policies to ensure that administrative barriers to participation are lowered so that as many eligible voters as possible are able to cast ballots.

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