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Vote Suppression Watch

Now that the party nominating conventions have passed and the presidential race has reached its final leg, voter suppression efforts are shifting into high gear around the country. As each campaign assembles an army of lawyers to protect their interests leading to and on election day, state and local partisans are engaging in a wide variety of tactics to prevent their opponents' supporters from casting a ballot. Once again these underhanded tactics, which we've highlighted before, are predominantly coming from right wing operatives, and the targets are overwhelmingly groups that tend to vote for progressive candidates. Since the beginning of this month the following voters suppression campaigns have been reported:

Michigan - Lose Your Home, Lose Your Vote - Macomb County Michigan Republican Chairman Planned to Cage Foreclosure Victims: Without a doubt the most disturbing suppression tactic that has been reported in the last couple of weeks was the claim of the Republican Chairman of Macomb County, Michigan that the party planned to use lists of foreclosure notices to challenge the eligibility of voters at the polls. The lists were to be used as evidence that voters no longer resided at the address where they are registered to vote. The Democratic Party and voting rights advocates immediately expressed outrage over the tactic, which Project Vote has noted is a violation of both Michigan and federal law.

As the story quickly gained wide attention, the local and state GOP furiously denied that they had ever made such plans and have threatened to sue the original independent media website that broke the story. However, the Democratic National Committee, the Obama campaign and several voters have filed for an injunction to prevent the practice.

Florida - "No Match, No Vote" Registration Rule to be Enforced: Florida announced on September 8th that they would enforce the state's controversial "no match, no vote" voter registration policy. "No match, no vote" rejects the voter registration application of any person whose personal information does not match with that in a government database. It results in the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters and predominantly affects women and Hispanics. The policy had been put on hold due to a challenge in federal court by voting rights advocates and voters. With an initial victory having been reversed on appeal, the state is beginning enforcement for the remainder of the registration period.

Wisconsin - AG Sues to Force Voter Registration Purge: Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who serves as co-chair of the McCain campaign in that state, has sued the Government Accountability Board (GAB), a non-partisan government agency that oversees elections. Attorney General Van Hollen is demanding that the board retroactively run a database match (a la Florida) on every voter registered since January 2006. The GAB "believes it would be counter-productive to rush this effort and to create a significant risk, at best of unnecessary hardship and confusion at the polls, and at worst the disenfranchisement of Wisconsin citizens with a clear and legitimate right to vote."

Ironically, the voter purge the Attorney General is advocating would be illegal in most other states because it violates the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). However, Wisconsin is exempt because they have election day voter registration (EDR) and, therefore, challenged voters should be able to correct any registration problems at the polls. Given this, it is clear the intention of the voter purge is not to merely make sure voter information is correct. In light of this, the Wisconsin Democratic Party has filed a countersuit claiming that the Attorney General is engaged in voter suppression.

Ohio - Voter Suppression Fights Galore:

  • Sec. of State Refuses to Enforce Voter Caging Statute that Violates Federal Law and the Constitution: In a welcome move, on Septeber 5th, Ohio Secretary of State Brunner informed county election boards that a law requiring a government-run vote caging process is illegal under the federal National Voter Registration Act and the US Constitution and should not be enforced. The law, passed in 2006, specifically allows voters' eligibility to be challenged based upon one piece of returned mail, a practice known as voter caging. The Ohio law allowed a person to be disenfranchised without ever having an opportunity to prove their eligibility.
  • Ohio GOP Sues to Prevent Same-Day Registration During Early Voting Period: The Ohio Republican Party has filed a lawsuit to prevent voters from registering and casting an absentee ballot on the same day, a practice they think will favor their opponents. While Ohio does not technically allow same day registration, an early voting law passed since the last election has a five day overlap between the beginning of early voting and the end of the registration period. This allows voters to register and then cast an absentee ballot during that five day period. The Republican Party is arguing that such a practice would violate the rule that a voter must be registered for 30 days before they can vote. The Secretary of State interprets the law to allow the practice because an absentee ballot hasn't been officially "cast" until it is opened and counted on election day.
  • Ohio Sec. of State Refuses to Accept Flawed Absentee Ballot Applications Distributed by McCain Campaign: In a reversal of the pattern we have seen of Republicans strictly interpreting election law to prevent likely Democrats from registering and vote, Ohio Secretary of State Brunner has ruled that absentee ballot applications distributed by the McCain Campaign should be rejected if an unnecessary check box indicating that the person is an eligible voters in not marked. The ruling will cause the rejection of thousands of absentee ballot applications throughout the state. This is similar to a string of seemingly nit-picking Republican rulings that have frustrated Democrats in Ohio for years.

Mississippi - Governor and Sec. of State Attempt to Bury US Senate Race at the Bottom of the Ballot: In a typical example of election dirty tricks, the Governor and Secretary of State of Mississippi have decided to place one of two US Senate races at the bottom of the November ballot. The race in question is one where former Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove is battling incumbent Senator Wicker in a special election for the remainder of Trent Lotts' term. Democrats charge that they are attempting to bury the race in the hopes that less people voting will boost Wicker's chances in the closely fought race. Attorney General Hood has called the move illegal and has advised election officials that the race must be at the top of the ballot with other federal races. US Rep. John Conyers has also called on the Department of Justice to investigate whether the move violates the Voting Rights Act's pre-clearence provision.

Virginia - Election Officials Try to Intimidate Student Voters: The Election Registrar of Montgomery County, Virginia, home of Virginia Tech, distributed a press release warning students of dire consequences should they register to vote from their campus address. The release erroneously claimed that students' financial aid would be put in jeopardy and that their parents might not be able to claim them as dependents on their taxes. The release drew a strong rebuke from voting rights advocates and election law experts who challenged the accuracy of the assertions and saw this as an attempt to disenfranchise students.

The State Board of Elections has released a statement refuting the claims made by Montgomery County. However, the SBOE's statement still troubles advocates because it allows election officials latitude to determine whether campus addresses are valid for registration purposes.

Resources

Progressive States Network - The New Voter Suppression and the Progressive Response