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GOP Feels Heat for Foreclosure Voter Suppression

Michigan Republicans are feeling the heat for a scheme to suppress voters based based on a list of foreclosed homes, a plan first reported by journalist Eartha Jane Melzer for our sister site, The Michigan Messenger.

In the week since Melzer broke the news, exposing Macomb County G.O.P. Chair James Carabelli’s intention to use a list of foreclosed homes to “make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” Sen. Barack Obama’s national campaign filed suit to thwart the practice; local officials in Michigan have been trading allegations about the news; and on Wednesday, influential MSNBC host Keith Olbermann spotlighted the issue, questioning whether Republicans are rolling out a suppression strategy of “caging” Democratic votes. Caging, as The Messenger explained on Tuesday, involves challenging voters by using returned mail to accuse voters of no longer residing at their registration address.

Bob Bauer, general counsel for the Obama campaign, maintains that caging via foreclosure is illegal, since a foreclosure notice does not establish that a voter’s address has changed.

An entire presidential election can turn on the execution or prevention of these suppression tactics, argue Democrats, who emphasize that roughly 35,000 voters were targeted for caging in the pivotal state of Ohio during the 2004 campaign.

With a pending lawsuit and mounting pressure from the national media, this suppression story will surely take more turns, and The Michigan Messenger obviously remains the best place to get on-the-ground reporting and analysis.

From the national perspective here at TWI, however, it is striking to watch the Michigan Republican Party use the same false playbook as the McCain campaign in an effort to intimidate the press. Without even making a pretense of contacting The Messenger, the state party circulated a press release last week claiming that the article’s quotes from party officials were “fabricated,” and conservatives tried to change the subject by attacking the source as a “liberal blog.”

The Messenger, to its New Media credit, not only reiterated that it stood by its reporting “100%,” but also published a transparent, first person response to the G.O.P. attack. That piece provided even skeptical readers with extra information about how the reporter, who has been honored for prior investigative work, and the editor, a 28-year veteran with 15 years at The Washington Post, researched, fact-checked and published the article.

Lately the presidential campaign has felt like a battle between not only McCain and Obama, but McCain and the press, which he and his allies attack from St. Paul to Washington as biased, elitist and sexist. In the meantime, the press has long struggled to confront a string of falsehoods from McCain, though the media fact-checking clearly intensified over the past two weeks. The Michigan battle reverses this exchange, at first glance, with Republicans *accusing the press *of not telling the truth. On closer inspection, however, The Messenger reports that it’s actually the same old pattern. The Republicans are still the ones making things up.

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