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Lose Your House, Lose Your Vote?

At our sister site, The Michigan Messenger, Eartha Jane Melzer has an eye-opening piece about what could be the Republican Party’s plans to target its latest swing-state voter suppression efforts at those who have lost their homes to foreclosure.

The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County, Mich., a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the coming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.

“We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” party chairman James Carabelli told Michigan Messenger in a telephone interview earlier this week. He said the local party wanted to make sure that proper electoral procedures were followed…

Carabelli is not the only Republican Party official to suggest the targeting of foreclosed voters. In Ohio, Doug Preisse, director of elections in Franklin County (around the city of Columbus) and the chair of the local GOP, told the Columbus Dispatch that he has not ruled out challenging voters before the election due to foreclosure-related address issues.

However, at least one expert challenges the legality of the plan:

“You can’t challenge people without a factual basis for doing so,” said J. Gerald Hebert, a former voting-rights litigator for the U.S. Justice Dept. who now runs the Campaign Legal Center, a public-interest law firm. “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.”

Such an effort would by its nature tend to favor Republicans:

The Macomb County party’s plans to challenge voters who have defaulted on their house payments is likely to disproportionately affect African-Americans who are overwhelmingly Democratic voters. More than 60 percent of all sub-prime loans — the most likely kind of loan to go into default — were made to African-Americans in Michigan, according to a report issued last year by the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Growth.

Melzer also notes that that the McCain campaign’s Michigan headquarters is located in the office buildiing of Trott & Trott, a law firm that specialized in foreclosures, whose founder is a major Republican fund-raiser.

The article raises some interesting questions. Will the strategy be limited to swing counties in certain states? What, if any, preparations being undertaken to counter such efforts in November? Perhaps most important, should you lose your right to vote because you lose your house to foreclosure?

In June, Marc Ambinder reported GOP and McCain campaign officials would scale back efforts to prevent potential “voter fraud.” However, with another close election predicted, a substantial campaign to prevent some voters from casting ballots in a few key counties could easily tip the balance in one direction or another.

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