November 5, 2007

Senate Bill Would Outlaw “Caging” as Voter Suppression Tactic

Whitehouse Legislation Would Sharply Limit Frivolous Challenges to Voter Eligibility

Washington, D.C. – Challenging a person’s right to vote because a letter sent to him or her was returned as undeliverable would be illegal under a Senate bill introduced today. U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) joined 12 other senators to unveil legislation aimed at preventing the practice of “voter caging,” a long-recognized voter suppression tactic which has often been used to target minority voters.

“In America, we believe that the right of an eligible voter to cast his or her vote is essential to our democracy,” said Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former U.S. Attorney and Rhode Island Attorney General.

Caging is a voter suppression tactic in which a political party, campaign, or other entity sends mail marked “do not forward” or “return to sender” to a targeted group of voters – often minorities or residents of minority neighborhoods. A list of those whose mail was returned “undelivered” is then used as the basis for challenges to the right of those citizens to vote, on the grounds that the voter does not live at the address where he or she is registered. There are many reasons that mail could be returned undelivered, however; an eligible voter could be overseas on active military service or a student registered at a parent’s address.

There is evidence that caging lists were assembled in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania during the 2004 elections, possibly intended as the basis for massive voter eligibility challenges. The Florida incident made headlines again earlier this year during Congress’s investigation into the firing of several U.S. Attorneys, when allegations resurfaced that Tim Griffin, the former RNC opposition researcher then serving as an interim U.S. Attorney in Arkansas, had been involved in an effort to cage voters in Jacksonville. In June, Whitehouse and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) called for a Justice Department investigation into allegations that Griffin and others at the RNC may have engaged in caging during the 2004 elections.

The Caging Prohibition Act would prohibit challenges to a person’s eligibility to register to vote, or cast a vote, based solely on returned mail or a caging list. The bill would also mandate that anyone who challenges the right of another citizen to vote must set forth the specific grounds for their alleged ineligibility, under penalty of perjury.

Senators Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) joined Whitehouse as cosponsors of the Caging Prohibition Act. To date, the bill has also been endorsed by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and People for the American Way.


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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921