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Note to McCain: You Don't Have to Own a House (or Eight) to Vote

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Michigan Republicans have indicated that they plan to challenge Michigan voters at the polls using lists of homes that are in foreclosure.  While we should not be surprised at any tactic after Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, this is a singular example of how low they will go.  It is done in the name of electing John McCain and John McCain should answer for it.  Today, I am calling on McCain to immediately denounce this activity and tell his supporters to stop it.  I hope some of our friends in the media will get him on the record about whether he intends to be elected President on the backs of those who have suffered the worst impacts of this economy.

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The Republican Party has had a long record of blocking eligible voters from voting.  In the past two Presidential elections, the country witnessed appalling efforts to limit voter participation in Ohio, Florida and throughout the country.  It is beyond disgraceful that the Republican Party now seems to be targeting those who are suffering the most.  It appears that individuals who can’t recall how many houses they own don’t understand how awful it is to lose your home to foreclosure, and don’t know that you don’t need to own property to vote in the United States of America.  

It should surprise no one that the people who gave us the worst economy since the Great Depression would now want to prevent those victimized by this economy from voting in the coming elections. Senator McCain needs to step forward now and halt the Republican Party’s efforts to profit politically from the economic misery of others.

I wrote Senator McCain the attached letter and have asked the Justice Department to investigate.  

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September 18, 2008

The Honorable John McCain
P.O. Box 16118
Arlington, VA 22215

Dear Senator McCain:

As Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee (HJC), I am extremely concerned by recent media reports that the Chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County, James Carabelli, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes as a basis to challenge voters and block them from participating in the November 2008 election.  I am writing to request that you denounce any efforts by the Republican Party, most notably in Michigan and Ohio, to engage in voter suppression, including challenges based on a voter’s home foreclosure status, and that you direct your supporters to refrain from engaging in such behavior. At a time when Americans are losing their homes at record numbers, it is difficult to imagine that anyone would attempt to capitalize on such misfortune for political gain.  Furthermore, a rejection of this strategy would be consistent with your recent commitment to "a fair and transparent election."

The subprime mortgage crisis has affected a significant number of Americans, and as such, a significant number of voters could be disenfranchised with this Republican strategy to challenge voters based on home foreclosure status.  More than 700,000, or one in every 171, of our nation’s households received at least one foreclosure-related notice from April to June of this year.  It is estimated that 2.5 million homes will face foreclosure this year, an increase from 1.5 million in 2007.  A Center for Responsible Lending report estimates that the highest default rates are expected to be in cities in California, Nevada, Michigan, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.  

A disproportionate number of those homeowners affected by the subprime mortgage crisis are minorities.  The Center for Responsible Lending projects that 10 percent of African-American borrowers and 8 percent of Hispanic borrowers will be affected by foreclosure.  In contrast, only 4 percent of white borrowers are expected to be affected.
The Macomb County party’s plan to challenge voters who have defaulted on their home loans would disproportionately affect African Americans who are overwhelmingly Democratic voters. The plan could be a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

With the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, Democrats and Republicans alike agreed that discriminatory voter suppression tactics had not been completely eradicated and protections against such tactics were still necessary.  Members of Congress, like you, voted in support of reauthorizing this Act because they recognized that fair and equal access to the ballot box has not yet been achieved for all Americans.  Certainly there must be no denying the kind of negative impact that challenges based on home foreclosure status can have on historically disenfranchised voting populations who have traditionally been targeted by predatory practices.  A person’s ability to exercise his or her right to vote should not be contingent upon financial circumstances.  

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Notably, in 1981 a federal court condemned the Republican National Committee (RNC) for using vote caging tactics similar to the foreclosure list plan.  Since the federal court’s decision in 1981 in New Jersey, the RNC has been under a federal consent decree to refrain from engaging in this practice.  It is important to note that the Department, under President George H.W. Bush filed suit in 1990 to stop a vote caging effort by those associated with Senator Jesse Helms’s  re-election campaign.

As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I ask that you repudiate any efforts by the Republican Party and any of its state affiliates to engage in voter suppression and intimidation tactics, and that you direct your supporters across the country to refrain from engaging in such behavior. I would appreciate hearing from you directly on whatever actions you take in response to this request.  

Responses should be directed to the Judiciary Committee office, 2138 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (tel: 202-225-3951; fax: 202-225-7680).  Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this important matter.

Sincerely,

John Conyers, Jr.
Chairman

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Representative John Conyers, Jr., a Detroit Democrat, was re-elected to the 14th Congressional District in November 2004, to his 20 term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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