September 17 2008
The Obama campaign yesterday went to court to block what it alleged was an attempt by Republicans in Michigan to stop people who lost their homes in the mortgage crisis from voting in November's election.
The suit, filed in a Michigan court yesterday, is the latest sign of contention over voting procedures. Voting rights activists in several battleground states have reported an aggressive push by Republican elected officials and activists to make it harder to vote.
In Macomb county, Michigan, a swing constituency, Republican officials for the first time tried to use America's housing crisis as a way of striking people off lists, the Obama camp told reporters yesterday. "There is no doubt that there is an immediate threat to the voting rights of citizens in Michigan whose names could appear on a foreclosure list," said Bob Bauer, an Obama lawyer.
The situation came to light last week when the Republican party chairman of Macomb county told a local newspaper he planned to draw on publicly available lists of home foreclosures to bar people from casting their vote.
"We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses," the official, James Carabelli, told the Michigan Messenger.
The national Republicans later distanced the party from his comment, but other state party officials confirmed there were plans to deploy an army of poll "challengers" who would check voters' credentials.
The Republicans argue that people who have lost their homes may no longer be resident at the address listed on voter records, and hence are ineligible to vote, and that their efforts are aimed at preventing voting fraud.
Such a claim is dismissed by campaign experts, who say there is minimal fraud in American elections.
Instead, they say the drive in Michigan to deploy poll challengers is intended to reduce turnout in poor areas and among African Americans, disproportionately affected by the housing crisis and thought to be likely Democratic voters.
Voting rights activists say they have already found a much more aggressive attempt by Republicans this election season to try to strike people off voting lists.
"I think that certainly the Republicans seem to be much more out front about how they are going to challenge people's right to vote," said Gerald Hebert, director of the nonpartisan campaign legal centre. "What we are seeing this time around is more of a broad-based effort, and we are also seeing the Republicans being much more assertive and bold in their announcements and not necessarily trying to do it under the radar."
Voting rights activists in Ohio and Missouri have reported attempts to use the housing crisis to try to disqualify voters.
In Michigan, Republican state party officials had planned to mail voters whose names appeared on a list of foreclosed homes obtained from the public records office. The idea was to compile a list of people who had been forced to move homes, but had yet to update their voter registration to their new address.
Republican party workers stationed at polling stations would then challenge such voters when they turned up on election day.
Also in Ohio, the state Republican party filed a law suit seeking to block streamlined new regulations that make it easier for people to cast their ballot by early voting.
In Wisconsin, meanwhile, the state's Republican attorney general has gone to court to try to compel poll workers to match voters' names against driving licence records.
Florida, which has a Republican governor, also moved last week to require poll workers to check voters' names against a government database.
The stated rationale of all these moves is prevention of voter fraud, although organisations which study elections say such fraud is a minimal risk.
The effort received a boost last April when the US supreme court ruled that states were entitled to require voters to present a state-issued photo ID such as a driving licence at the polls.
Civil rights organisations argued that the requirement discriminates against the poor and the elderly, who often do not have driving licences because they cannot afford a car.
More than 20 states now require voters to show ID at the polls, and there have been a series of recent reports about elderly people losing their right to vote.