September 16, 2008

Whitehouse Asks Justice Department to Prevent Disenfranchisement of Voters Losing Their Homes

Report Suggests GOP Plans to Challenge Voters Who Received Foreclosure Notices

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the author of legislation to combat the voter-suppression practice known as “vote caging,” today joined 13 other senators in asking the Department of Justice to take action in the wake of reports suggesting the Republican Party plans to use this tactic to challenge voters whose homes have been foreclosed.

Last week, the Michigan Messenger quoted James Carabelli, the Republican Party chairman in Macomb County, Michigan as saying that “[w]e will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses.” (Read the article here.) Carabelli has since denied making such a statement; the Messenger reporter stands by her story.

“In the middle of the worst economy in recent memory, with so many Americans fighting to stay in their homes, these allegations suggest a mean-spirited and desperate attempt to suppress the vote,” said Whitehouse, a former Rhode Island U.S. Attorney and Attorney General.

Homeowners who receive foreclosure notices are not always evicted; indeed, earlier this year, Congress passed the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-289), which increased funding for pre-foreclosure counseling that could help hundreds of thousands of additional families work with their mortgage lender or servicer to explore options that will let them stay in their homes. Challenges to voters’ status based solely on foreclosure filings could thus keep many eligible voters from voting.

The senators called on Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to ensure that voters facing foreclosure are not harassed or intimidated at polling places. The letter’s 14 signers included all Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), as well as Senators Barack Obama (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

“We are extremely concerned about recent allegations regarding plans to challenge voters on Election Day based on lists of homeowners facing foreclosure. If officials in any jurisdiction plan or attempt such a tactic, it must be prevented,” the senators wrote, calling on the Attorney General to ensure “that homeowners with missed mortgage payments do not also miss the chance to exercise this precious right.”

Last November, Whitehouse introduced the Caging Prohibition Act (S. 2305), which would prohibit challenges to a person’s eligibility to register to vote, or cast a vote, based solely on the fact that a letter sent to him or her was returned as undeliverable – the most common form of vote caging. 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.

The Senate Rules Committee held a hearing on S. 2305 in February. To date, the bill has 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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