Bill to ban false election notices is killed

DENVER — A bill that would have banned the dissemination of false information about elections died in a House committee Tuesday.

The measure, which cleared the Democratic-controlled Senate last month on a near party-line vote, would have made it a felony for anyone to give false information about when and where elections are held.

Democratic sponsors of the bill say such deceptive practices are commonly used to dissuade or prevent certain groups of people from voting.

Rosemary Harris Lytle, spokeswoman for the Colorado branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and president of the Colorado Springs branch of the NAACP, said the practice is akin to blacks in the South once being falsely told they would have to pass a literacy test before they would be allowed to vote.

“Communities of color have long been a target for those looking to strip away rights,” she said. “In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the examples across the country of lying and dishonesty towards voters, specifically voters of color.”

But Republicans on the GOP-controlled House Judiciary Committee said they opposed the measure because they knew of no specific instances where it has been proven to have happened in Colorado, adding there already are laws banning giving false information during elections.

Michael Dougherty, head of the criminal justice section of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, told the committee his office routinely investigates such cases, and none has ever been prosecuted. He said his office receives three to five election-related complaints a year under the current law.

“If there’s a question of enforcement, if we’re not doing a good enough job, then certainly we should take steps to improve it,” Dougherty said. “But to put it bluntly, I would respectfully suggest we don’t enact a law that says we really meant what we said last time.”

Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner said she knows of no incident in the county where someone tried to suppress voter turnout.

But Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert Ortiz said the law Dougherty is referring to focuses on electioneering and not on suppressing voter turnout.

On Election Day in 2008, some county residents received prerecorded telephone calls from an unknown source falsely saying their precincts had changed, and they had an additional day to vote, Ortiz said. Some people may not have voted as a result, he said.

Republicans, however, said the bill won’t do what its sponsors intend.

“This is not about voter intimidation or disenfranchisement. It’s about speech,” said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs. “What this bill does ... chills speech.”



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