Thursday, September 11, 2008

Michigan Voter Challenges

An article published in the Michigan Messenger yesterday discusses the plans of the Republican Party in Macomb County to challenge voters’ eligibility based on matching their names and addresses to those published on a list of foreclosed homes. Macomb County is reported to be “a key swing county in a key swing state”.

In Michigan, parties are permitted to have representatives present to challenge voter qualifications. Such challenges can be made “provided they [the election challengers] ‘have a good reason to believe’ that the person is not eligible to vote.” The use of the foreclosure listings to challenge a voter’s qualifications is based on challenges being permitted to verify that the voter is a resident of the election district. The Republican Party’s logic in making these challenges based on the foreclosure list is that one a house is foreclosed upon, the person will no longer be living there and as such cannot use that address to meet residency requirements. However, what the Republican Party apparently is failing to recognize is that many people maintain residency of their property throughout the foreclosure process, often times negotiating with the mortgage company to settle their debt and still keep their property.

The primary issue with the use of these challenges is that minorities will be disparately impacted. Minorities comprise over half of all borrowers obtaining sub-prime loans – the type of loan that is most frequently defaulted upon. Not only are minorities, at least in Macomb County, a majority of the sub-prime mortgage holders, but they are also largely Democratic. As such, to disallow these votes, statistics would suggest that more Democratic votes will be disallowed than Republican votes.

In addition to disqualifying these voters, these challenges will cause delay in everybody’s voting process. While votes are being challenged, those in line will either wait patiently or most likely decide the wait is not worth their effort. Many are already disillusioned with the voting process since the installation of electronic voting equipment, and it is not unthinkable that added delays such as this will cause many potential voters to leave before casting their votes. Some people may be chased away from polling places by just hearing that such challenges may be occurring and that the process could be delayed.

It is understandable that counties have their own election procedures that must be followed and that the qualifications of voters must be determined. However, the way the Republican Party is handling such verification seems to have burdens that outweigh any of the benefits. A list of foreclosed properties does not seem like a very accurate account of these voters’ living conditions, and requiring voters to provide proof of their residency could disqualify many valid ballots. To add in the burden it has on all other voters, discouraging them from casting their ballots, really makes this plan troublesome.

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