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National Issues

Project Vote Call to Protect the Votes of Americans Facing Foreclosure PDF  | Print |  Email
By Project Vote   
October 14, 2008
The economic crisis now looms as the most important issue in the upcoming election, but there are concerns that partisan forces may be afraid to hear what those hit hardest by the downturn have to say at the polls. Recent reports in several states have indicated that partisan operatives are considering challenging the right to vote of Americans who have lost, or are at risk of losing, their homes to foreclosure.

Today the voting rights group Project Vote sent letters to both major political parties in 10 states—AZ, CO, FL, GA, MO, NC, NM, NV, PA, and VA—urging them to "oppose and refrain from" using lists of home foreclosures as the basis for "voter caging" operations. Project Vote also sent letters to secretaries of state in each of these states, outlining existing state and federal legal protections for voters, and urging election officials to "take all lawful steps" to protect foreclosure victims and other Americans from being disenfranchised based solely on returned mail or residency challenges. 

"Losing your home doesn't mean you lose your right to vote," says Project Vote Attorney Teresa James, who is the author of the Caging Democracy: A 50-Year History of Partisan Challenges to Minority Voters. "Challenging every voter whose residence was or is being foreclosed upon would serve no purpose but to interfere with the orderly conduct of the election and intimidate those voters who are not aware of their legal options under the law."

In the letters, James clarifies that a change of address for any reason—including losing one's home to foreclosure—does not always disqualify an individual from voting under state and federal laws. Appearance on a foreclosure listing does not necessarily mean that a person has moved, but even voters who are no longer at their previous address are protected.

"Regardless of whether the intent is to limit the challenges to those who have actually been foreclosed or to indiscriminately challenge anyone who votes from an address that is in foreclosure," the letters say, "…eligible voters who have changed addresses, regardless of whether they are or not in foreclosure, may cast their votes on Election Day."

The letters cite the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993, which says that a person who has moved from one address to another may vote at her former polling place and update the registration at that time. Additionally, the letters summarize the protections offered by state law, which in many cases also permit updating one's address at the polls. 

In the letters to the parties, James points out that "those who conduct such mass challenges could face criminal penalties."

The letters were sent in response to reports in several states of plans to use foreclosure lists and other residency challenges for voter caging lists. In September, the Michigan Messenger quoted Macomb County GOP Chairman James Carabelli as saying that the GOP had "a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses." (Mr. Carabelli later denied that the GOP had any such plans.) Earlier this summer the problem was also discussed in the Columbus Dispatch, where Franklin County GOP Chairman Doug Preisse said that he would not rule out challenges. Kevin DeWine, deputy chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, has been quoted as saying "nothing is off the table" in terms of election tactics.

Today's letters follow similar letters Project Vote sent to Michigan and Ohio in September. On Sept. 24, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner issued a directive to boards of elections advising them that the fact a voter is involved in a foreclosure action is not sufficient, on its own, to sustain a voter registration challenge. "Ohioans faced with the pain and turmoil of a home foreclosure should not be targeted by the forces of disenfranchisement on Election Day," Brunner said in her directive. "I have taken steps today to make sure eligible voters fighting to keep their homes don't lose their right to vote."

"In America you get to vote even if you're behind on your bills," James said. "Today Project Vote is asking both political parties to foreswear this latest twist on the cynical partisan tactic known as voter caging, and we are calling on Secretaries of State to follow Secretary Brunner's example and take decisive action to protect the rights of voters from attack.

 "All Americans—particularly those members of the community hit hardest by the economic crisis—deserve a voice and a vote on Election Day," said James.
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