“Caging” Operations Suppress Minority Vote in Florida and Nationwide

by Charles Jackson and Laura Goodhue on September 28, 2007

Leaders of ACORN, the nation’s largest grassroots community organization, reacted with deep concern to the findings in a report released by Project Vote on Sept. 27th titled, Caging Democracy: A 50-Year History of Partisan Challenges to Minority Voters. “The report details a systematic effort by a number of state and national Republican officials to employ the practice of ‘voter caging’ to stifle minority participation in elections,” said Florida ACORN Board Chairwoman Tamecka Pierce. “Disenfranchising or intimidating legitimate voters is wrong and un-American.”

In vote caging schemes, political operatives obtain a list of registered voters and send them a piece of non-forwardable direct mail. The vote cagers then compile a list of names associated with pieces of returned mail onto “caging lists,” which are used to challenge voters’ eligibility to cast ballots. These mailings overwhelmingly target voters of color, residents of cities and likely Democratic voters.

In the lead-up to the 2004 election, Florida Republicans with the support of the national party compiled caging lists that included the names of military personnel deployed in Iraq and sent poll watchers to challenge voters in disproportionately minority, urban communities. Fifty-nine percent of precincts in predominantly African-American districts in Miami-Dade County, for example, were scheduled to have at least one Republican poll watcher armed with caging lists, compared with only 37 percent in predominantly white precincts.

“A single returned letter from a political party does not serve as evidence upon which to challenge a citizen’s right to vote,” said Pierce. “Those who use voter caging to discourage and suppress minority voters would obviously rather disenfranchise these people than campaign for their support. States must protect all voters from frivolous challenges and partisan intimidation.”

Partisan operatives use the lists they generate to demand that boards of elections remove voters from the rolls, to intimidate voters in person, and to generate media stories that give the false impression that a large number of people are attempting to commit “voter fraud,” the Project Vote report says.

ACORN’s voter registration drives have submitted over 1.6 million new voter registration applications from low-income and minority Americans since 2004. ACORN has been repeatedly attacked in the press by partisan officials eager to counteract this success.

Permissive state voter challenge statutes allow partisan individuals to challenge and disqualify voters, frequently without providing clear grounds on which such challenges are allowed. The Project Vote report chronicles how many of these state laws originated in Post-Civil War effort by Southern Democrats to disenfranchise newly emancipated blacks.

Challenging a voter’s right to cast a ballot on the basis of racial or ethnic profiling violates the First, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitution. It also violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or language. The Project Vote report recommends that states provide better training for poll workers, that states appoint elections observers representing all political parties, that no voter challenge be permitted within 30 days of an election and that grounds for challenges be narrowed to age, residence and citizenship.

ACORN is calling on partisan leaders to renounce the practice of voter caging and on state Legislatures and the United States Congress to enact laws prohibiting political parties from compiling caging lists based on returned, non-forwardable mail.

To obtain a copy of the complete report, visit www.projectvote.org or contact Laura Goodhue at flacornmw@acorn.org

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