FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 16, 2008

AMID NEW FEARS OF VOTER SUPPRESSION, SCHUMER, SENATE DEMOCRATS URGE ATTORNEY GENERAL TO HALT ANY PLANS TO CHALLENGE VOTERS BASED ON FORECLOSURE FILINGS


Michigan Reports Hint At Campaign to Challenge Voters Based on Foreclosure Status

Dirty Tactics Would Be Especially Devastating in States with Highest Foreclosure Rates

Senators Call on Attorney General to Protect Fundamental Right to Vote

Following reports that Republican Party officials in Michigan may be planning to use lists of foreclosure filings to challenge voters’ status on Election Day, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY)—joined by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Joseph Biden (D-DE), and 10 other Democratic senators—today called on Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to ensure that voters facing foreclosure are not harassed or intimidated at polling places. According to the senators, challenging voters based on foreclosure filings could drive many eligible voters away from the polls and could have a devastating impact on voters in states with the highest foreclosure rates, such as California, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and Nevada.

 

“We are extremely concerned about recent allegations regarding plans to challenge voters on Election Day based on lists of homeowners facing foreclosure. If officials in any jurisdiction plan or attempt such a tactic, it must be prevented,” the senators wrote in their letter. The senators called on the Attorney General to ensure “that homeowners with missed mortgage payments do not also miss the chance to exercise this precious right.”

 

The letter’s 14 signers included all of the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and both Michigan senators: Senators Schumer, Leahy, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Biden, Herb Kohl (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russell Feingold (D-WI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Obama, Carl Levin (D-MI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

 

According to the Senators, questioning voter status based on foreclosure status would represent a new variant of voter “caging”, a voter suppression tactic to challenge whether voters are living at their registered addresses. Home foreclosure is a lengthy process that does not always result in the homeowner’s eviction from the home. Using a list of addresses and foreclosure filings to challenge the residence of voters would therefore sweep up large numbers of properly registered voters, turning them away from the polls or forcing them to cast provisional ballots. Even rumors of voter caging could discourage many with missed mortgage payments from going to the polls, or create delays that drive away even voters unaffected by the foreclosure crisis.

 

Moreover, voter challenges based on foreclosure filings would be likely to disproportionately target economically disadvantaged voters, and would also be likely to fall heavily on minority voters because of their exposure to subprime mortgages. According to the Joint Economic Committee, during the subprime boom, African-American home-buyers were nearly three times more likely than whites to receive a high-cost, subprime mortgage. Most, if not all, of the 1.25 million homes in foreclosure represent families stricken by the deteriorating economy or unscrupulous lending practices.

 

The text of the Senators’ letter to the Attorney General is below:

 

 

September 16, 2008

 

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20530

 

Dear Attorney General Mukasey:

 

We are extremely concerned about recent allegations regarding plans to challenge voters on Election Day based on lists of homeowners facing foreclosure. If officials in any jurisdiction plan or attempt such a tactic, it must be prevented. It would be simply a new variant of the destructive practice of voter “caging” and, like other forms of caging, we expect that its primary result would be to drive many eligible voters away from the polls. The consequences of such a disenfranchisement tactic would be especially severe in states with high foreclosure rates, such as California, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Arizona.

 

Foreclosures are devastating enough for affected families and neighborhoods without adding the outrage of disenfranchisement. Most, if not all, of the 1.25 million homes in foreclosure represent families stricken by the deteriorating economy or unscrupulous lending practices. Moreover, voter challenges based on foreclosure notices would heavily target economically disadvantaged voters, and therefore would be likely to disenfranchise a disproportionate number of minority voters. The Joint Economic Committee has reported that, during the subprime boom, African-American home-buyers were nearly three times more likely than whites to receive a high-cost, subprime mortgage.

 

Any campaign to challenge voters based on foreclosure lists would sweep in large numbers of voters who remain in their homes or who correctly registered at a new address, perhaps even discouraging them from going to the polls. Foreclosure is a time-consuming process, and does not always end in the homeowner’s departure. Indeed, federal, state and local governments are currently expending substantial resources to help homeowners who are behind on their mortgages to remain in their homes. As the rest of the country unites to help struggling homeowners, it is critical that we prevent any attempt to subject eligible, registered voters to needless harassment. It takes just a moment to level a challenge, but it would cost voters much time and trouble to overcome. Unnecessary delays caused by foreclosure-based challenges would generate long lines at polling places, causing hassle and lowering turnout for entire neighborhoods.

 

Voting is, as the Supreme Court declared over 120 years ago, “a fundamental political right, because [it is] preservative of all rights.” Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886). In order to help ensure that homeowners with missed mortgage payments do not also miss the chance to exercise this precious right, we ask that you reassure us promptly as to the following questions:

 

  1. What steps, if any, will you take to ensure that eligible voters are not intimidated or harassed at the polls because they are facing foreclosure?

 

  1. Will you train federal election monitors to ensure that voters are not intimidated or harassed based solely on the fact that they have received a foreclosure notice, and to stop such tactics if they occur?

 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your timely response.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Joseph Biden (D-DE), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russell Feingold (D-WI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Barack Obama (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

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