Reid vows legislation on robo-calls, phony sample ballot

The soon-to-be majority leader says campaign abuses should be met with criminal penalties.


Tim GrieveMichael Scherer
November 17, 2006 2:23AM (UTC)

Remember those abusive Republican robo-calls and the sample ballots that suggested -- falsely -- that Michael Steele is a Democrat? The soon-to-be Senate majority leader does, and he's prepared to do something about them.

In a breakfast meeting sponsored by the American Prospect, Harry Reid told reporters today that the calls and the phony campaign literature were "absolutely wrong," and that one of the first 10 bills he introduces in the next Senate will deal with such abuses. "We need to make these criminal penalties," Reid said, saying that civil liability was apparently not enough to deter what happened in the run-up to last week's election.

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Sen. Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, is pushing the Justice Department to explain what, exactly, it's going to do about last week's reports of voter intimidation and trickery. Schumer raised the issue today with Civil Rights Division chief Wan Kim, who was appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he has followed up with a letter to Alberto Gonzales and other department officials in which he describes some of the "egregious attempts to block access to the ballot during this years campaign season." Among them: "In Maryland, groups of people were brought in buses from out of state and paid to distribute sample ballots that misleadingly suggested that Republican gubernatorial and Senate candidates were Democratic candidates. In Arizona, three men were observed intimidating Hispanic voters by stopping and questioning them outside a Tucson polling place. Virginia voters suffered through a campaign of phone calls, currently being investigated by the FBI, that wrongly informed voters that they were not registered and would face criminal charges if they appeared at their polling places."

Schumer says that he's unhappy with the "lack of precision" in the answers Kim was able to provide today, and he wants to hear more from the department. For starters, he wants to know how many attorneys the department has assigned to "to address acts of voter intimidation and voter deception related to last week's mid-term election."

Call it a reminder of what oversight looks like -- and the sort of thing that Gonzales and other Bush administration officials probably ought to expect a little more frequently when Schumer & Co. start controlling the Senate's agenda in January.


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

MORE FROM Michael Scherer

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