Friday, September 12, 2008

Republicans Plan to Foreclose on African American Voters

Republicans plan to foreclose African American voters

By Eartha Jane Melzer
Michigan Messenger - September 10, 2008

The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County
Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is
planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block
people from voting in the upcoming election as part of
the state GOP's effort to challenge some voters on
Election Day.

'We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make
sure people aren't voting from those addresses,' party
chairman James Carabelli told Michigan Messenger in a
telephone interview earlier this week. He said the
local party wanted to make sure that proper electoral
procedures were followed.

State election rules allow parties to assign 'election
challengers' to polls to monitor the election. In
addition to observing the poll workers, these
volunteers can challenge the eligibility of any voter
provided they 'have a good reason to believe' that the
person is not eligible to vote. One allowable reason is
that the person is not a 'true resident of the city or

The Michigan Republicans' planned use of foreclosure
lists is apparently an attempt to challenge ineligible
voters as not being 'true residents.'

One expert questioned the legality of the tactic.

'You can't challenge people without a factual basis for
doing so,' said J. Gerald Hebert, a former voting
rights litigator for the U.S. Justice Department who
now runs the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington D.C.-
based public-interest law firm. 'I don't think a
foreclosure notice is sufficient basis for a challenge,
because people often remain in their homes after
foreclosure begins and sometimes are able to negotiate
and refinance.'

As for the practice of challenging the right to vote of
foreclosed property owners, Hebert called it, 'mean-

GOP ties to state's largest foreclosure law firm

The Macomb GOP's plans are another indication of how
John McCain's campaign stands to benefit from the
burgeoning number of foreclosures in the state.
McCain's regional headquarters are housed in the office
building of foreclosure specialists Trott & Trott. The
firm's founder, David A. Trott, has raised between
$100,000 and $250,000 for the Republican nominee.

The Macomb County party's plans to challenge voters who
have defaulted on their house payments is likely to
disproportionately affect African-Americans who are
overwhelmingly Democratic voters. More than 60 percent
of all sub-prime loans - the most likely kind of loan
to go into default - were made to African-Americans in
Michigan, according to a report issued last year by the
state's Department of Labor and Economic Growth.

Challenges to would-be voters

Statewide, the Republican Party is gearing up for a
comprehensive voter challenge campaign, according to
Denise Graves, party chair for Republicans in Genessee
County, which encompasses Flint. The party is creating
a spreadsheet of election challenger volunteers and
expects to coordinate a training with the regional
McCain campaign, Graves said in an interview with
Michigan Messenger.

Whether the Republicans will challenge voters with
foreclosed homes elsewhere in the state is not known.

Kelly Harrigan, deputy director of the GOP's voter
programs, confirmed that she is coordinating the
group's 'election integrity' program. Harrigan said the
effort includes putting in place a legal team, as well
as training election challengers. She said the
challenges to voters were procedural rather than
personal. She referred inquiries about the vote
challenge program to communications director Bill
Knowles who promised information but did not return

Party chairman Carabelli said that the Republican Party
is training election challengers to 'make sure that
[voters] are who they say who they are.'

When asked for further details on how Republicans are
compiling challenge lists, he said, 'I would rather not
tell you all the things we are doing.'

Vote suppression: Not an isolated effort

Carabelli is not the only Republican Party official to
suggest the targeting of foreclosed voters. In Ohio,
Doug Preisse, director of elections in Franklin County
(around the city of Columbus) and the chair of the
local GOP, told The Columbus Dispatch that he has not
ruled out challenging voters before the election due to
foreclosure-related address issues.

Hebert, the voting-rights lawyer, sees a connection
between Priesse's remarks and Carabelli's plans.

'At a minimum what you are seeing is a fairly
comprehensive effort by the Republican Party, a
systematic broad-based effort to put up obstacles for
people to vote,' he said. 'Nobody is contending that
these people are not legally registered to vote.

'When you are comprehensively challenging people to
vote,' Hebert went on, 'your goals are two-fold: One is
you are trying to knock people out from casting
ballots; the other is to create a slowdown that will
discourage others,' who see a long line and realize
they can't afford to stay and wait.

Challenging all voters registered to foreclosed homes
could disrupt some polling places, especially in the
Detroit metropolitan area. According to the real estate
Web site RealtyTrac, one in every 176 households in
Wayne County, metropolitan Detroit, received a
foreclosure filing during the month of July. In Macomb
County, the figure was one household in every 285,
meaning that 1,834 homeowners received the bad news in
just one month. The Macomb County foreclosure rate puts
it in the top three percent of all U.S. counties in the
number of distressed homeowners.

Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Kent and Genessee counties were
- in that order - the counties with the most homeowners
facing foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac. As of
July, there were more than 62,000 foreclosure filings
in the entire state.

Joe Rozell, director of elections for Oakland County in
suburban Detroit, acknowledged that challenges such as
those described by Carabelli are allowed by law but
said they have the potential to create long lines and
disrupt the voting process. With 890,000 potential
voters closely divided between Democratic and
Republican, Oakland County is a key swing county of
this swing state.

According to voter challenge directives handed down by
Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, voter
challenges need only be 'based on information obtained
through a reliable source or means.'

'But poll workers are not allowed to ask the reason'
for the challenges, Rozell said. In other words,
Republican vote challengers are free to use foreclosure
lists as a basis for disqualifying otherwise eligible

David Lagstein, head organizer with the Michigan
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
(ACORN), described the plans of the Macomb GOP as

'You would think they would think, `This is going to
look too heartless," said Lagstein, whose group has
registered 200,000 new voters statewide this year and
also runs a foreclosure avoidance program. 'The
Republican-led state Senate has not moved on the anti-
predatory lending bill for over a year and yet
[Republicans] have time to prey on those who have
fallen victim to foreclosure to suppress the vote.'

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