Michigan Republicans may be deriding as false a story claiming they planned to use lists of foreclosed homes to keep some from casting their votes on Election Day, but the Barack Obama presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee aren't taking any chances.
A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Detroit in last week seeks to pre-empt any potential GOP efforts to challenge voters who may have moved because their homes are involved in foreclosure.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union, working in conjunction with the United States Student Association and others, has also filed suit in the same U.S. District Court against Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and other election officials in an attempt to challenge "two statewide voter purge programs that could potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Michigan voters in advance of the November 2008 presidential election."
What the hell's going on?
The way it looks right now, the presidential election is going to be awfully close, and a few key swing states — with Michigan being among those atop the list — will likely determine the winner. With evidence of dirty tricks by the GOP in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, the concern is that our state could be a target for underhanded voter-suppression tactics this time.
"With Michigan set to be one of the most important battleground states in this election and turnout predicted to be the highest in history, we are going to do everything we can to make sure that every vote counts and that nobody is illegally purged from the voter roles," Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said in a press release last week.
The ACLU's lawsuit concerns policies that could result in large numbers of students, minorities and low-income voters being shut out.
The civil liberties group is challenging one Michigan Department of State program that immediately cancels the registration of prospective voters who obtain driver's licenses in other states without following removal procedures mandated by 1993's national Voter Registration Act.
Also being challenged is a Michigan law requiring local clerks to "nullify newly registered voters whenever their original voter identification cards are returned by the post office as undeliverable." In Detroit alone, according to the ACLU, election officials report that nearly 30,000 voters per year are removed from the rolls as a result of this allegedly illegal law.
"Students and young adults generally are much more transient than older adults, are much more likely to have driver's licenses from different states than their colleges, and are much more likely to live in multi-unit housing, such as dormitories and apartments. Anyone who has lived in these types of housing knows that mail can sometimes be very unreliable and unpredictable," said Jonathan Doster, a Michigan field organizer for the student association.
Minorities and poor people disproportionately tend to live in multi-family housing as well, critics of the laws being challenged contend.
"The state of Michigan is breaking the law," ACLU staff counsel Meredith Bell-Platts alleged in a press release. "By going forward with these unlawful purges, the only reasonable conclusion to draw is that the state is trying to disenfranchise voters."
Left unstated is that these voters tend to skew Democratic, and that Secretary of State Land is a Republican.
Attempts by News Hits to obtain comment from Land's office were unsuccessful. Her spokesperson, Kelly Chesney, told the Associated Press last week that they hadn't yet been served with a copy of the suit, but based on press accounts it "appears they are challenging some laws that have been on the books for the past few decades, dating back to at least 1975."
As for the possibility that prospective voters could be challenged because mail sent to them at their home address had been returned — whether the home is in foreclosure or not — that alone is not sufficient reason to sustain a challenge, according to Detroit lawyer Harold Pope, an election law expert News Hits contacted.
The concern of the Obama campaign is that the threat of a challenge — whether legitimate or not — could deter some from going to the polls, and that even illegitimate challenges can be used to "clog" things up on Election Day.
The lawsuit also points out several past efforts by Republicans in other states to use "caging" — that is, names culled from returned mail — as a way to suppress the votes of those likely to support Democrats.
"Obviously, we weren't working from a blank slate," says Grand Rapids attorney James R. Bruinsma, a lawyer for the Obama for America campaign.
Whatever your party affiliation, there's a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that is going to have volunteers at the polls watching for any sort of voter suppression efforts and ready to assist anyone who thinks they are wrongly being denied a chance to cast their ballot.
The group is the Washington, D.C.-based outfit Election Protection — a group Detroit lawyer Pope is working with.
"We don't want to see any voters intimidated out of going to the polls because their homes have been foreclosed on, and we don't want to see any voters deprived of their right to vote by either party," spokesman Wesley Thompson tells News Hits.
If you have a concern or a problem, contact them through their free hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.
Hold on to your Stetsons, folks. With six weeks still to go, it's sure to be a wild ride from here to Election Day.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]