On Sept. 10, reporter Eartha Jane Melzer of online publication, the Michigan Messenger broke the story that the GOP of Macomb County, Mich. was planning to use public lists of foreclosures to challenge the eligibility of potentially thousands of low-income and minority voters in that hard-hit region. Since that time (and at least party through Project Vote's efforts to catalyze action to stop the illegal disenfranchisement), the story has been picked up by multiple news outlets around the country and generated a lawsuit from the Obama campaign and the DNC on behalf of potentially-disenfranchised Mich. voters.
"We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses," Macomb County GOP chairman James Carabelli reportedly told the Messenger in the Sept. 10 report.- Advertisement -
"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," Melzer wrote. "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..."
In a statement, Project Vote attorney Teresa James explained that Michigan law allows challenges at the polls only if the challenger "knows or has good reason to suspect" a voter is ineligible. According to James, the Michigan Secretary of State has clarified this to require that challenges should be based on "reliable sources or means."- Advertisement -
"Republican challengers with only a list of foreclosure notices will have NO evidence or reliable source to suggest that eligible voters have moved and are no longer eligible to vote," James said.
Later that day, however, Carabelli denied having any such plans, according to a Detroit News report. Despite his claim that the story was a fabrication, Melzer "stands by her story '100 percent' and has clear notes on her conversation with Carabelli."
James sent a letter on behalf of Project Vote to both major political parties in Michigan, offering a detailed analysis of state and federal law and the requirements for challenging voters based on residency. In the letter, James clarified that a change of address for any reason - including losing one's home to foreclosure - does not itself disqualify an individual from voting under Michigan law, and that challenging a voter on the basis of a foreclosure would violate the National Voter Registration Act and the Voting Rights Act.
The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit on behalf of the potentially disenfranchised foreclosure victims, according to Greg Gordon of McClatchy Newspapers.- Advertisement -
"Democratic lawyers argued that foreclosure proceedings can take more than a year and don't always force a homeowner to change residences," Gordon wrote. "Nor is there a basis, they wrote, 'for challenging the right to vote of all the renters who reside in an apartment building that has been foreclosed.'
"They said the tactic is intended 'to discourage, intimidate and suppress the vote of individuals whom defendant Republicans believe are unlikely to vote for them.'"
A spokesman for the state Republican Party denied the plan to use foreclosure lists to challenge voters and claimed that they "never talked about doing it," Gordon wrote.
The same day, "a group of Senate Democrats -- including Sen. Obama -- sent a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking for details on what the Justice Department plans to do to ensure voters aren't 'intimidated or harassed based solely on the fact that they have received a foreclosure notice,'" according to the Wall Street Journal.