Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) asked the Justice Department to look at allegations that voters in Baltimore and elsewhere around Maryland received robocalls on election day that Cardin says were intentionally designed to suppress voter turnout.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Cardin requests that the Justice Department investigate anonymous, automated phone calls his office said were made to predominantly African-American and other voters in Baltimore and elsewhere around the state.
“I’m calling to let everyone know that Gov. O’Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met. The polls were correct, and we took [inaudible],” said the message, which went out over an hour and a half before polls closed on Tuesday. “We’re okay. Relax. Everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch on TV tonight.”
Cardin said in a statement that targeting voters “with deceptive messages in a deliberate attempt to suppress voter participation is well outside the limits of protected free speech.”
“We have a moral obligation to stop these reprehensible tactics that are aimed at keeping minorities and others from exercising their inalienable right to vote,” Cardin added.
Cardin’s letter to Holder said that he understood that “rough and tumble” campaign tactics were expected but said “some actions go beyond the pale and seek to intimidate voters.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the letter, but we’ll update if they have something to add.
The Maryland Democrat also made a request to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that the panel hold a hearing on deceptive voter practices.
Cardin’s full letter to Holder:
The Honorable Eric Holder Attorney General Department of Justice
Dear Attorney General Holder:
I am writing today to request that the U.S. Department of Justice look into a series of misleading automated phone calls to Maryland voters that were clearly intended to suppress voter turnout in predominantly African-American communities during this year’s general election.
On Election Day, November 2, 2010, Baltimore City residents and other Democrats around the state received automated phone calls stating: “Governor O’Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met. The polls were correct…and we’re ok. Relax, everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch on TV tonight. Congratulations and thank you.”
While I fully understand that campaigns can be rough and tumble, where candidates question and criticize their opponent’s record and judgment, some actions go beyond the pale and seek to intimidate voters. We must take action when entities deliberately use deceptive practices to marginalize and disenfranchise voters.
These tactics are not new, but are tactics we have seen before. During the 2006 and 2008 elections in Maryland similar intentionally misleading actions occurred. In those elections, we saw deceptive literature, misleading automated calls, voter intimidation, and suggestions of arrest for unpaid parking tickets or unpaid taxes if individuals attempted to vote. During my own 2006 Senate campaign, voter guides were handed out by the opposing party that contained false and misleading endorsements in an effort to diminish the impact of minority voters.
I request that the Department of Justice thoroughly examine the deceptive practices used on November 2, 2010 against voters in Maryland and elsewhere around the nation. We must ensure that such deliberate practices are not tolerated.
I look forward to your response.
Benjamin L. Cardin
United States Senator
Late update: “The Department is reviewing the letter,” Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa told TPMMuckraker.