Election 2008

Amy Sancetta/AP

Foreclosures Lead to Allegations of Planned Voter Suppression

October 01, 2008 12:28 PM
by Christopher Coats
The country’s housing crisis and allegations of planned voter suppression have collided on the campaign trail, as threats of polling place challenges worry those on the move.

"Caging" and the 2008 Election

In potential swing states such as Ohio and Michigan, Democrats have accused Republicans of planning to use a familiar form of roll purging called “caging” to challenge the validity of registered voters by questioning their place of residence.

The practice of “caging entails sending mass mailings to targeted voters with instructions not to forward and then using the undelivered letters to compile lists of voters for eligibility challenges,” reports McClatchy's Washington Bureau. If challenged, a voter may fill out a provisional ballot that can be appealed at a later date.

Proponents of caging argue that the practice is necessary, asserting that voter registration drives by a political party sometimes produce thousands of phony registrations.

The Washington Post reported in 2004 that the practice is often aimed at low-income communities, minorities and younger voters, and has historically been used by Republicans to issue polling location challenges.

This practice has become especially worrisome to its critics with the dramatic surge of home foreclosures in the past year, increasing the number of changes of residence.

According to Realty Trek, foreclosures in the United States have jumped 27 percent since last August, and hit an all time high at the beginning of September.

While hardly a new practice, “caging” became an election issue earlier this month when a Republican official in Michigan allegedly told the Michigan Messenger that GOP representatives would be present at polling places with lists of foreclosed home owners.

In the second quarter of 2008, Michigan ranked seventh in the nation for home foreclosures, according to the Oakland Business Review.

Although the official later denied ever making the claim, the allegation that he made the comments attracted the attention of not only the campaign of Barack Obama, who, according to MSNBC, filed an injunction on Sept. 16 to halt the practice. 

It also caught the attention of Michigan officials, who announced that “home foreclosure lists are not sufficient to challenge voting status," reported BusinessWeek.
State Republicans were quick to dismiss the requested injunction and announcement by stating they had never intended to pursue such a course of action. 

During a conference call with reporters last month, Saul Anuzis, Michigan's Republican Party Chairman, said, “We can’t be asked not to do something we’re not going to do anyway,” MSNBC reported.

In Ohio, the practice of caging took on a broader presence with the passage of a 2006 law requiring a piece of registered mail be sent to every voter in the state, allowing undeliverable mail to be used to compile legal challenges to voters. These mailings would not be allowed to be forwarded.

Last month, Ohio’s Secretary of State overruled the law, stating that returned mail could not be the only evidence used to justify a challenge to a voter, Politico reported. Critics of the 2006 law argued that it threatened to remove more than 600,000 voters from the rolls. 

According to CBS News, in 2004, the presidential election in Ohio was split by only 118,000 votes.

A Common Campaign Approach

In past elections, voter “caging” was intended to purge voter rolls, with various campaigns aimed to specific demographics. 

According to the Washington Post's 2004 article, cases in 1981 and 1986 resulted in a consent decree by the National Republican Party, which “prohibited the party from engaging in anti-fraud initiatives that target minorities or conduct mail campaigns to ‘compile voter challenge lists.’”

While the decree prohibited the national party from participating in “caging,” it did not prohibit state parties from the practice.

During the 2004 presidential election, it was alleged that voter “caging” took place in several key battleground states, with campaigns aimed at minority, young and military voters. PBS NOW reported that the allegations resulted in Congressional hearings in 2007 to explore who was responsible, and ultimately, who was to benefit.

Allegations of “caging” this year have focused on economic, rather than racial or age-related, circumstances.

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