As the American revolutionary Thomas Paine wrote, "The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected." The right to vote is what unites people of all religious and cultural backgrounds and political philosophies as Americans. Protecting and expanding that right has been the key story in American history, from the Revolution all the way through the Civil Rights Movement and beyond to today.
Threats to Americans' right to vote have changed over the course of generations. Last month, a Maryland jury convicted an aide to former Governor Robert Ehrlich of sending deceptive robocalls designed to trick voters into not exercising their right to vote. The Election Day 2008 calls told potential supporters of Ehrlich's opponent, Martin O'Malley, to "relax" and "watch television" because "O'Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met. The polls were correct, and we took it back."
This sort of trickery isn't limited to Maryland. Earlier this year, absentee ballot applications mailed by a group opposing the recall of Wisconsin senators falsely told anticipated recall supporters they could turn in their ballots after election day. Closer to home, the 2008 election in Colorado saw claims of misleading robocalls targeting Republican voters in Denver and Jefferson County, and misleading letters sent to presumably Democratic-leaning college students in Colorado Springs.
Yet amazingly, these types of dirty tricks designed to manipulate voters into giving up their most important right are not illegal in Colorado. State law prohibits voter "intimidation," but not intentional tricks designed to keep people away from the polls without the use of threats. It would be naive to think that the types of tactics alleged to have been used here in 2008 can't happen in our perennial swing state.
Senate Bill 12-147, introduced last week by Senator Irene Aguilar, would add intentionally lying to voters about the time, place or manner of an election to the list of acts prohibited by our election code. It's a reasonable patch to a hole in our state's voter protection laws. The Colorado legislature and Governor Hickenlooper have an opportunity to play a small role in the ongoing American story of protecting the right to vote, and they ought to take it.
There is also a role for the rest of us to play. Help spread accurate information about voting dates and methods from your county clerk or nonpartisan groups like Just Vote Colorado. Fight against election falsehoods whenever you see them. So many have given so much for our right to vote. Now it's our turn to protect it.
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