Macomb County Suit Settled
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
The Democratic and Republican parties have settled a lawsuit filed by the Obama campaign, agreeing that people whose homes are slated for foreclosure in Macomb County, Michigan, will not be challenged when they come to vote next Tuesday. The suit was triggered by an article published last month in the Michigan Messenger entitled “Lose Your House, Lose Your Vote.”
In the piece, reporter Eartha Jane Melzer wrote that the Macomb County Republican Party was planning to use published foreclosure lists to challenge voters. The paper quoted the party chairman as saying in a telephone interview, “We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses.”
Michigan law gives people 60 days to register from their new homes after they have moved out of the precinct in which they are registered. Having one’s house listed on a foreclosure list is not evidence that the residents have moved, nor even that the mortgage will be foreclosed.
Citing state government statistics, the paper said 60% of subprime mortgages in Michigan were written for African-American home buyers. Thus, targeting people on the foreclosure list, a public document, would disproportionately discourage African-Americans from voting, due to the humiliation of being challenged on those grounds in front of other voters.
As part of an informational packet sent to local election officials, the Michigan elections office said it will remind local clerks that being on a home foreclosure list is not sufficient reason to challenge voting status.
On October 20, the day the Obama campaign’s complaint was to be heard in U.S. District Court in Detroit, the two political parties issued a joint statement. In it the Democrats claimed the Republicans had intended to challenge voters facing foreclosure and the Republicans said they had no such intention. The joint statement continued,
To clarify the matter for all voters, all parties are pleased that they agree that the existence of a person’s address on a foreclosure list does not provide a reasonable basis for challenging the person’s eligibility to vote and that none of these parties will challenge any voter’s eligibility on that basis.
The Macomb County GOP chairman demanded a retraction by the Michigan Messenger, which stands by the reporter’s story. So the chairman has filed a defamation suit against the paper, an action the newspaper calls “baseless.”
In filing the suit, the Obama campaign signaled its intention that voters’ rights would not be unreasonably challenged. Even the threat of a challenge is enough to discourage some people from showing up at the polls. Both campaigns plan to place lawyers in polling places in key states. The Obama campaign has 5,000 lawyers lined up in Florida alone.
Posted on October 28th, 2008 by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Filed under: Uncategorized