April 3, 2008

Senate Committee Considers Whitehouse Bill on Voting Rights

R.I. Senator, Former Attorney General Decries Vote Suppression Tactics

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) testified today before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on legislation he has introduced that would combat a voter-suppression tactic called “vote caging.”

The Caging Prohibition Act (S. 2305), introduced last November, would, among other things, prohibit “vote caging.” Caging is a voter suppression tactic in which a campaign 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. Of course, there are many reasons that mail could be returned undelivered, for example; an eligible voter could be overseas on active military service or a student lawfully registered at a parent’s address.

“It is an unfortunate reality that, with so much at stake in the ballot box, organized efforts to suppress the vote go nearly as far back as the right to vote itself,” said Whitehouse, a former United States Attorney, Rhode Island Attorney General, and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Protecting the rights of eligible voters is essential to the health of our democracy.”

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. Last 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.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Rules Committee, is a cosponsor of the Caging Prohibition Act and scheduled the hearing to consider the bill. Other cosponsors include Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). 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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