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Voting Rights 2008: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

First The Victories

  • Fallout from Montana Voter Challenge Plan Continues:  Last week we highlighted the tremendous job that Forward Montana and other local advocates did in bringing a massive attempt to challenge voters in Montana to a stop.  In just a few days the plan was abandoned amid serious public backlash.  This week there has been additional fallout as the executive director of the state GOP has stepped down.  Clearly trying to keep people like deployed soldiers from voting wasn't a popular activity in the big sky state.   

Dramatic events like these don't happen by themselves; in this case Forward Montana used a variety of means to get the word out.  One important tactic was posting the list of challenged voters on their website, along with information on how to fight a challenge.  This allowed regular folks to look at the list and decide if there was merit to the GOP claims.  When peoples' deployed relatives, recently departed college age children and ailing parents relocated to a nursing home were on the list, the voter suppression campaign was stopped in its tracks.

  • Michigan District Court Rules that Voter Caging Violates Federal Law:  In a case that stems from the Macomb County, Michigan Republican Party's plan to use foreclosure lists to challenge voters at the polls, a District Court judge for the Eastern District of Michigan has ruled that the state's process for purging voters whose voter registration cards are returned as undeliverable violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.  That law requires that states wait two years between flagging a voter as inactive and removing that voter from the rolls.  Returned mail is often used, erroneously, as a basis for challenging voters' qualification.  This process is termed "caging" and has been a favorite voter suppression technique of right wing operatives for decades.
  • GOP Efforts to Prevent Early Voting Fail: Three separate judges ruled in quick succession that they would not intervene to prevent early voting in Lake County, Indiana (see here, here, and here).  The Indiana Republican Party (IRP) had sought an injunction after the board of elections in the heavily Democratic county had voted to open early voting sites in the cities of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago.  The IRP argued that satellite early voting sites could only be authorized by a unanimous vote of the county board.

But Voting Rights Still Under Assault

  • Ohio Ordered to Report Unverified Voter Registration Applications: In yet another case brought by the Ohio GOP against the Secretary of State, a federal judge has ruled that Ohio election officials must directly report voter registration applicants whose personal information does not match with information in government databases to county boards of election.  The Sec. of State says 200,000 out of 666,000 registrants in 2008 have mismatching data.  Previously such voters were merely flagged in the voter database and counties were free to investigate the eligibility of the voter if they chose.
  • ACORN Target of Coordinated Conservative Attacks: After last weeks raid of ACORN's Nevada headquarters in Las Vegas, they have been the victim of a multi-prong attack by right wing forces across the country.  The McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee have held numerous conference calls accusing the organization of engaging in voter fraud.  In addition, the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank where former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow, has filed a RICO suit against ACORN accusing them of engaging in a conspiracy to violate election laws.

    ACORN has by far registered the most voters of any independent organization involved in voter registration, with over one million registrations this year.  By targeting low-income and minority voters they are in large part responsible for the dramatic increase in Democratic-affiliated voters since 2004.  And while some bogus registrations have been submitted as part of their massive registration drive, such registrations are flagged by ACORN and reported to election officials as they are discovered. 

    Given ACORN's apparent compliance with election law, the coordinated attacks against them seem to have two purposes: generating bad publicity for the Obama campaign by trying to tie him to the group, and delegitimizing the massive Democratic turnout, fueled by new voters, that is expected in November.  Though even McCain surrogate Gov. Crist of Florida, ground zero in the voter registration struggles this year, doesn't believe ACORN is aiding or perpetraing any voter fraud.