Weekly Voting Rights News Update
This an entry in a series of blogs to keep people informed on current election reform and voting rights issues in the news.
Featured Stories of the Week:
Attorney under fire for Ohio voter letter: Watchdogs said a former Justice Department official sided with Republicans in a scheme to scratch minority voters in the 2004 election – McClatchy Newspapers
Cage Match: Did Griffin Try to Disenfranchise African-American Voters in 2004? - TPMmuckraker.com
Voter Suppression - ePluribus Media
Just before the 2004 election, a federal judge in Ohio was deciding on a potential voter suppression case where the Republican Party challenged the credentials of “23,000 mostly black voters.” Former Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, Alex Acosta sent the judge a letter arguing that it would “'undermine'” state and federal election laws if voters' credentials could not be challenged, Greg Gordon of McClatchy Newspapers reported.
“The case was triggered by allegations that Republicans had sent a mass mailing to mostly Democratic-leaning minorities and used undeliverable letters to compile a list of voters potentially vulnerable to eligibility challenges.”
The letter is being linked to “a host of allegedly partisan Justice Department voting rights positions” in the wake of the firing of at least nine U.S. attorneys and may be subject to investigation by congressional Democrats within the next few weeks. Acosta declined to say if former voting counsel Hans von Spakovsky “had any role in writing the letter.”
With his letter, Acosta was “cheerleading for the Republican defendants,” said former deputy chief of the DOJ's voting rights section, Robert Kengle.
“It was doubly outrageous,” he said, “because the allegation in the litigation was that these were overwhelmingly African-American voters that were on the challenge list.”
Former chief of the department's voting rights section Joe Rich called it “vote-caging.”
So, what is vote caging?
According to this feature by ePluribus Media, writer Mark Johnston defined “caging” as a “method of voter suppression in which first-class mail is sent to registered voters to confirm their addresses. If the letter is returned to the sender, the name and address on the returned mail is entered into a database known as 'caging list.'”
The report by ePluribus Media and this TPMmuckraker.com article cite this 2004 BBC News report by Greg Palast as first reporting the discovery of a “caging list” of 1,886 names and addresses of voters in “predominantly black and traditionally Democrat areas of Jacksonville, Florida.”
The lists came as attachments in two emails addressed to former national research director of the Republican National Committee, Tim Griffin, among others, according to Paul Kiel of TPMmuckraker.com. The newsblog did a comparative analysis of the list with Duval County voter rolls to find if black voters were targeted in a voter suppression scheme. The results showed that “most of those on the list were Democrats and most of those were African-Americans. 57% of Duval County voters voted for Bush in the 2004 election. On the other hand, while the list is composed disproportionately of African-Americans, our analysis of the zip codes showed that the mailing was not sent exclusively to predominantly African-American neighborhoods.”
In a similar analysis, Johnston wrote that letters were sent “diffusely throughout Duval County,” perhaps to “superficially counter claims of selective targeting in the event this version of caging ended up in court. However, detailed analysis reveals evidence of racial bias against blacks and Hispanics.”
While Griffin called the vote caging allegations by Palast “ridiculous,” challenge lists as a Republican tactic is nothing new, Kiel said. The tactic was not only used in Ohio, but “in 1982, a federal judge in New Jersey issued a consent decree banning the targeting of racial minorities with challenge lists; Democrats have since alleged numerous times that Republicans have broken that decree.”