Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Proving Intent, Knowledge and Good Faith?

Posted by bsflag2007 on Thursday, February 1, 2007

Once upon a time I was on the Board of a condominium association (I’ll never do that again). We had a problem with someone stealing the potted plants out of the hallways/public areas. Amazing but true.

We also had a self-appointed enforcer of all rules great and small. He didn’t seem to find any contradiction in his endless reporting of his neighbors for leaving their newspapers in front of their doors past noon and his own parking in the handicapped parking spot — but since we didn’t have any handicapped residents, he insisted he wasn’t hurting anyone.

This gentleman was also endlessly fascinated by the fact that I had in my possession a set of master keys (left over from when my company built the building). He cornered me on many occasion’s to insist that I use my keys to look inside other people’s homes for the missing plants or evidence of other “crimes” – like his newspaper (which seemed to disappear on a regular basis).

He burst into a Board Meeting one evening to report yet another complaint and insisted we should enter the “suspect’s” home to search for evidence.

He then announced that if I gave the keys to the group – “we” could enter the condo and I wouldn’t have to worry about being sued. The lawyer who was there explained that would only make all of us vulnerable to a lawsuit.

With some pride he began waiving the Condominium Documents – “it says here that the Board cannot be held liable for actions taken in ‘good faith’ “.

He said all we had to do was “just say we did it in good faith”.

Now there’s a plan — just lie about good faith – “just say” you did it in good faith.

Sadly, some of the other Board members were willing to entertain the notion — if only to shut the guy up.

If you don’t need this concept explained – then you’ll understand the problem with the legislation proposed by Barack Obama and Charles Schumer (d-ny) with the support of our own Ben Cardin.

The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007, calls for “penalties of up to $100,000 and five years in prison for those convicted of KNOWINGLY communicating false information on the time, place and manner of elections, voter eligibility and rules, a candidate’s party affiliation, and endorsements.”

Though this is not a new problem — you all may remember the recent election and the various “oddities” including the “Democratic sample ballots” which could have tricked some folks into voting for Ehrlich/Steele —- there is an endless list of examples of “dirty tricks” which are clearly intended to confuse or misdirect certain groups of voters in the hopes of giving advantage to a specific candidate – not just in Maryland (maybe even less in Maryland than other places).

I can see it now —- witness for the defense….. “You say the election wasn’t changed to Wednesday? I really didn’t KNOW that. Steele is a Republican? Say it ain’t so! I thought everyone had to show their passport to vote! I’m actually dumber than a bag of rocks. Can you prove I’m not?”

Verdict: not guilty.

Cindy Vaillancourt


8 Responses to “Proving Intent, Knowledge and Good Faith?”

  1. hocoterp said

    Before I put forward another possible defense, I have to ask: would this put an end to all the “Democrats for Ehrlich” or “Steele Democrats” campaign material? You could make a case that a bumper sticker that says “Democrats for Ehrlich” knowingly communicates false information about Ehrlich’s party because Ehrlich is not a Democrat. However, to prohibit that is to clearly abridge the right to free speech of any Democrat who wishes to convey the fact that he or she is a Democrat and supports a particular candidate, even if that candidate is a member of another party. Obama and Schumer must be proponents of free speech (they never hesitate to exercise their right to speak) and yet their legislation has the potential to limit political free speech. There’s something deceptive about that.

  2. hocoterp said

    As a corollary to the “sharp as a bowling ball” defense, I see another plausible defense: the “typo” defense
    Campaign literature can be assembled in a frantic and frenzied environment. 10 people could review something and a typo could still slip through. If a political group wanted to, they could distribute literature that has a typo for the date of the election, the time the poll closes, poll location (Atholton ES vs. Atholton HS or transposing numbers in a street address), etc., and then say that they didn’t knowingly communicate false information. It was a typo. If they had known about the typo, they would have fixed it. This now means you have to prove that the group intentionally wanted to deceive the people the literature was distributed to and that the group knowingly allowed the literature to be distributed with the typo.

    While I bring up the “typo” defense as a way to show how a malicious actor could conceivably skirt the law, $100,000 would be a lot to pay for an innocent typo. $100,000 might not even amount to a night’s work fundraising for a US Senator or Congressman, but that would utterly sink any candidate for State Senate or Delegate or a local or municipal office.

  3. bsflag2007 said

    This is fun – let’s see how many ways we can figure out to beat the new “protection law”.


  4. timactual said

    Both Schumer and Obama are, coincidentally, graduates of Harvard Law School. This isn’t much of a recommendation for their old Alma Mater.

  5. cindy vaillancourt said

    Now let’s not get carried away and blame Harvard.

    The problem is not necessarily with amaturish drafting of the proposed law —- but the problems inherent in trying to legislate honorable behavior.

    As a society we don’t really want to criminalize stupidity (well, I’d lke to but then I’d spend more than my share of time in jail) – and we don’t want to spend community resources trying to prove what people knew and when —- or trying to prove whether our president is a liar or a moron —- or both —- we’d prefer clear rules that people of good faith try to adhere to.

    Unfortunately, that opens us to the people who are “smarter than everyone else”.

    In the case of political campaign hi-jinks — the really sickening thing is that these “pranks” are not usually the acts of a lone individual (redundancy intended)…. but a whole group of morally bankrupt individuals.

    now that’s sad.


  6. bsflag2007 said

    BTW – I support the intent behind the proposed legislation.

    Pranks, tricks, frauds, or manipulations that interfere with the free and fair exercise of American’s rights to vote – and have their votes counted – are a real problem … and have been forever.

    When America matured beyond actually legislating unfair treatment and allowing “legal” methods of depriving eligible voters their rights (like literacy tests etc) – those who do not have the moral character or the confidence to compete “fair and square” have resorted to all manor of tricks and games to effect the same result.

    They are just more sophisticated and sneakier — and they use our basic values of fairness and decency to avoid prosecution for their actions.

    Is it an unintentional accident that the oldest, or most breakdown prone machines are assigned to the precincts that historically produce the most votes for the party not in control of the assignment of machines?

    Is it an unintentional accident when those precincts are understaffed, or run out of materials or supplies?

    Some of these manipulations can be addressed through effective legislation – but not all of it. The rest of us have to “enforce” better behavior by demanding it – and not rewarding it – and holding the beneficiaries of unseemly activities accountable.


  7. My Resume Says I'm County Executive said

    Would this bill prevent people from using bogus job titles to inflate their limited experience in order to get elected?

  8. cindy vaillancourt said

    Better than legislation — what if people just don’t vote for people who lie, cheat and steal?

    too bad we can’ count on that.

    cindy v

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