The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County Michigan, 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 upcoming election
as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election
“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.
State election rules allow parties to assign “election challengers”
to polls to monitor the election. In addition to observing the poll
workers, these volunteers can challenge the eligibility of any voter provided
they “have a good reason to believe” that the person is not eligible to
vote. One allowable reason is that the person is not a “true resident
of the city or township.”
The Michigan Republicans’ planned use of foreclosure lists is
apparently an attempt to challenge ineligible voters as not being “true
One expert questioned the legality of the tactic.
“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 Department who now runs the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington
D.C.-based 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.”
As for the practice of challenging the right to vote of foreclosed property owners, Hebert called it, “mean-spirited.”
GOP ties to state’s largest foreclosure law firm
The Macomb GOP’s plans are another indication of how John McCain’s
campaign stands to benefit from the burgeoning number of foreclosures
in the state. McCain’s regional headquarters are housed in the office
building of foreclosure specialists Trott & Trott. The firm’s founder, David A. Trott, has raised between $100,000 and $250,000 for the Republican nominee.
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.
Challenges to would-be voters
Statewide, the Republican Party is gearing up for a comprehensive
voter challenge campaign, according to Denise Graves, party chair for
Republicans in Genessee County, which encompasses Flint. The party is
creating a spreadsheet of election challenger volunteers and expects to
coordinate a training with the regional McCain campaign, Graves said in
an interview with Michigan Messenger.
Whether the Republicans will challenge voters with foreclosed homes elsewhere in the state is not known.
Kelly Harrigan, deputy director of the GOP’s voter programs,
confirmed that she is coordinating the group’s “election integrity”
program. Harrigan said the effort includes putting in place a legal
team, as well as training election challengers. She said the challenges
to voters were procedural rather than personal. She referred inquiries
about the vote challenge program to communications director Bill
Nowling who promised information but did not return calls.
Party chairman Carabelli said that the Republican Party is training
election challengers to “make sure that [voters] are who they say who
When asked for further details on how Republicans are compiling
challenge lists, he said, “I would rather not tell you all the things
we are doing.”
Vote suppression: Not an isolated effort
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.
Hebert, the voting-rights lawyer, sees a connection between Priesse’s remarks and Carabelli’s plans.
“At a minimum what you are seeing is a fairly comprehensive effort
by the Republican Party, a systematic broad-based effort to put up
obstacles for people to vote,” he said. “Nobody is contending that
these people are not legally registered to vote.
“When you are comprehensively challenging people to vote,” Hebert
went on, “your goals are two-fold: One is you are trying to knock
people out from casting ballots; the other is to create a slowdown that
will discourage others,” who see a long line and realize they can’t
afford to stay and wait.
Challenging all voters registered to foreclosed homes could disrupt
some polling places, especially in the Detroit metropolitan area.
According to the real estate Web site RealtyTrac, one in every 176
households in Wayne County, metropolitan Detroit, received a
foreclosure filing during the month of July. In Macomb County, the
figure was one household in every 285, meaning that 1,834 homeowners
received the bad news in just one month. The Macomb County foreclosure
rate puts it in the top three percent of all U.S. counties in the
number of distressed homeowners.
Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Kent and Genessee counties were — in that
order — the counties with the most homeowners facing foreclosure,
according to RealtyTrac. As of July, there were more than 62,000
foreclosure filings in the entire state.
It's also the Ohio GOP