In Macomb County Michigan, the Republican Party chairman has announced a plan to challenge voters whose homes have been foreclosed on in the upcoming presidential election. “We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” said James Carabelli.
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.” However, if a volunteer makes a challenge, poll workers are not permitted to ask why or allow voters to make a defense.
J. Gerald Hebert, a former voting rights litigator for the U.S. Justice Department, has questioned the legality of this effort. “You can’t challenge people without a factual basis for doing so…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.”
The effort is not limited to Macomb County, or indeed, only to Michigan. In Ohio, Doug Preisse, director of elections in Franklin County 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.
“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.”
Some speculation has occurred over the fact that in Macomb County, the majority of persons whose homes have been foreclosed on are African American and a great number of those vote Democrat.
In the course of researching this issue, I came across one site out of dozens carrying the article that posted an edit claiming that a party member in Michigan had contested the veracity of this story. As of writing, I have not been able to find any other source for this statement, but I felt it would be inappropriate to ignore the possibility.
While challenges may not result in barring for all voters, it does create difficulty, causing voters to have to travel to different polling places, much longer waits than many people can afford, and general hesitance to go to polling places for fear of confrontation or harassment. Causing disruptions and discouraging already disenfranchised voters on Election Day might not be illegal, but one does have to question whether it is ethical.