GOP Attempts to Challenge Foreclosed Families at Michigan Polls, Toss Thousands of Voters Over Typos in Florida and Game the Senatorial Ballot in Mississippi
Just Another Day in their Continuing War on Democracy...
By Steve Heller on 9/11/2008, 6:00am PT  

Guest Blogged by Steve Heller of VelvetRevolution's Election Protection Strike Force...

Three recent stories have come to light about the Republican Party's latest and sometimes illegal efforts at voter disenfranchisement. Unfortunately, these three stories are only the very tip of an enormous iceberg.

Before we go into details, please, if you're registered to vote, check on the status of your registration NOW, before you get turned away from the polls this November. You can check your registration status here with our friends at VotersUnite.org. This is even more important if you are African-American, Hispanic/Latino, elderly, a college student, or low income; statistically and historically, Americans in those four categories are disenfranchised in greater numbers than any other segment of the American populace. PLEASE check on the status of your registration. This bears repeating: Check your registration status here.

And of course, if you're not registered to vote, what in the hell are you waiting for??

First, Michigan... We've learned from the Michigan Messenger that James Carabelli, the Republican Party commissioner for Macomb County, 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."

Carabelli, as quoted in the Messenger, says, "We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses."

But J. Gerald Hebert, a former voting rights litigator for the U.S. Justice Department and currently the Executive Director and Director of Litigation for Campaign Legal Center, says the practice is simply illegal...

"You can't challenge people without a factual basis for doing so. 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," said Hebert.

Based on the past efforts of the Republican Party to disenfranchise African American voters, it should come as no surprise that they are using home foreclosure lists in this effort. According to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, "[t]he foreclosure rate in Detroit is one of the highest in the nation, and 62 percent of the sub-prime loans have been made to African American residents."

Michigan has been involved in the targeting of African American voters in the last few election cycles. In the fall of 2004, State Rep. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, said, ''If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election.'' Detroit is over 80% African American.

The old saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same" is certainly true in the Wolverine State.

In Florida... A controversial state law passed by the Republican controlled legislature in 2005, known as the "no match, no vote" law, requires an exact match between the information on a voter's identification card and the information in the state's voter registration database. If there is any discrepancy between the voter database and the voter's ID, the voter will be given a provisional ballot and then have two days to come to the county registrar's office to prove his/her identity.

There are a myriad of reasons why the voter database and a voter's ID card might not perfectly match. Mistakes by data entry clerks such as transposing the first name/last name or the numbers on a voter's street address or social security number, leaving out a hyphen in a name, a typo on the name of the street or the zip code, differences in the various databases used, and leaving off a "Sr." or "Jr." can all cause a "no match" and thus a "no vote." There are also problems with flawed matching programs that search for differences between the voter's ID and the voter's registration information.

Honest mistakes by voters in filling out registration forms can also lead to disenfranchisement. For example, if a man named "Robert" uses the name "Rob" or "Bob" on his registration form, he won't get to vote, even if all the other information on his driver's license, passport, and/or military ID card matches the information in the voter database.

In December of 2007, the constitutionality of this law was successfully challenged by voter advocates with legal representation from the Brennan Center for Justice. In the decision placing a stay on enforcement of the law, Judge Stephan Mickle wrote that the law "makes it harder to vote by imposing a matching requirement that is a barrier to voter registration." He concluded that Florida's law "is resulting in actual harm to real individuals" and "causes damage to the election system that cannot be repaired after the election has passed" and that "even more people will be prohibited from registering to vote" and "the harm to a disenfranchised voter would be impossible to repair."

Judge Mickle also found that the law would likely be in conflict with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But in July of this year, after the state made changes to the law (the provision giving non-matched voters two days to return to their county registrar's office to prove their identity and requiring that voters be notified by mail before the election if there is a discrepancy between their ID card and the voter database) the stay on enforcement of the law was overturned by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Now Secretary of State Kurt Browning (R) has announced that the state will begin enforcing the law as of September 8.

After the July decision allowing the law to be enforced, Myrna Pérez of the Brennan Center for Justice said, "This is another unnecessary impediment for voters being able to exercise their rights in Florida. This is such a foolish process. It's a compounding problem at every step of the way. It's hard for people to get on the registration list. It's hard for third-party voters to register people. If they're lucky enough to jump through these hurdles, they have a photo ID law. How far are you going to take this? How many barriers are you going to put in front of voters? How many obstacles are they supposed to go through?"

Elizabeth Westfall of the Advancement Project said, "It's going to needlessly keep a lot of people off the rolls." She said 16,000 people have already been affected in Florida and that "tens of thousands" will be challenged in the upcoming election. "That's the scary part," she said.

In April of this year, three voting integrity groups --- Project Vote, The Brennan Center for Justice, and The Advancement Project named Florida "the most hostile state in the nation to new voters."

And finally in Mississippi... there is a new method of trying to suppress votes. In a clear and indisputable violation of Mississippi law, Governor Haley Barbour, a Republican, and Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, also a member of the GOP, issued, as required by state law, a sample ballot for the upcoming November election. The sample ballot illegally places the special U.S. Senate race between former Mississippi governor Ronnie Musgrove (D) and interim U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R) near the very bottom of the ballot.

Make no mistake, Mississippi law is crystal clear on this matter.

SEC. 23-15-367. Arrangement of names of candidates, order of titles of offices, and printing of official ballot generally; order in which titles of various offices are to be listed on the ballot; furnishing of sample of official ballot; alphabetical arrangement in primary elections.

(2) The titles for the various offices shall be listed in the following order:

(a) Candidates for national office;
(b) Candidates for statewide office;
(c) Candidates for state district office;
(d) Candidates for legislative office;
(e) Candidates for countywide office;
(f) Candidates for county district office.

We believe the ballot design is a blatant and unquestionably illegal attempt to "hide" the Musgrove/Wicker contest and thereby lessen the number of people who vote in that race. The GOP is concerned about the race because while Wicker is polling slightly ahead of Musgrove, an August 23 Rasmussen report shows that Wicker, the incumbent, is polling below 50% and that his approval rating is at 47%. Says Rasmussen, "While Wicker now has a modest edge in this race, any incumbent who polls below 50% is considered potentially vulnerable."

Musgrove's office issued a press release on the ballot matter, part of which reads "[Sec. of State] Hosemann could cite no statute supporting his decision to move the race from the top of the ballot. However, Attorney General Jim Hood did cite election law requiring federal races be placed at the top of the ballot."

Says Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood, "There is absolutely nothing in the law that says you can put a special election at the bottom of the ballot."

Assistant Attorney General Reese Partridge had sent letters to Hosemann and Barbour stating that the special election should be on the ballot alongside or immediately after the regular election for U.S. Senate, based on the law and past practices.

Hosemann and Barbour chose to ignore that legal advice.

It's interesting to note that this November, both of Mississippi's U.S. Senate positions are up for re-election because of the retirement of former Senator Trent Lott. In the other Mississippi Senate race, incumbent Thad Cochran (R) has a significant lead and will likely cruise to re-election.

And, no surprise here, that Senate race is near the top of the ballot as required by state law.

With a very high voter turnout expected this fall, and with the significant increase nationwide in new Democratic voter registrations (which have far outstripped new Republican registrations), and with Democratic enthusiasm running high due to excitement about the Obama/Biden ticket, the GOP is worried that black voters, who favor Musgrove 83% to 17%, will be out in force and will put him over the top for the Senate seat.

An election official in Mississippi is fighting back against this criminal act. Pike County Election Commissioner Trudy Berger filed a lawsuit in Hines County circuit court asking that this illegal ballot not be the one used in Mississippi this November.

Berger's attorney, Sam Begley, stated, "My client's responsibilities are to the voters and the law is clear. Elections for federal office should be at the top of the ballot. The proposed ballot buries the most prominent election in the state and will cause confusion on Election Day."

Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green issued a temporary restraining order barring the ballots from being sent to the printer until a hearing can be conducted on the matter. Judge Green set the hearing for 11:00 a.m. Thursday in her courtroom.

Let's hope Judge Green actually has the cajones to make the state's governor and secretary of state follow the law. That's not asking too much, is it?

But even if Judge Green issues a decision in accordance with Mississippi law, we have little doubt that Barbour and Hosemann --- I'm tempted to make a snarky comment about his name, but I'll restrain myself --- will appeal the decision. They'll do so in an attempt to run out the clock and then claim that due to time constraints, they have no choice but to use the sample ballot with the U.S. Senate race at the bottom of the ticket.

Anything to "win".

Cross-posted at Velvet Revolution...

UPDATE 9/13/08: The Judge in Mississippi has nixed the plan to place the Special Senate Election at the bottom of the ballot, ordering it to be at the top, as per state law. Gov. Barbour has vowed to appeal. Details here...