The Obama campaign filed a lawsuit Sept. 16 to block an apparent Republican Party effort in Michigan to use home foreclosure lists to exclude registered voters in the Detroit area from casting ballots this November.

At the same time, 14 Senate Democrats, including Michigan Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking him to prevent the use of foreclosure list to disfranchise registered voters.

According to media reports, the Obama campaign filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Detroit asking for an injunction against the Macomb County Republican Party, the Michigan Republican Party and the Republican National Committee. The injunction would block the Republicans from using a list of home foreclosures obtained through a McCain campaign donor to exclude registered voters who may be on the list.

Macomb County, northeast of Detroit, includes key working class communities.

Last week, Macomb County Republican Party Chair James Carabelli told a local news web site, the Michigan Messenger, that Republican activists would use lists obtained from foreclosure specialist firm Trott & Trott to identify voters whom they would accuse of not being residents of the addresses listed on their voter ID and state ID cards.

The firm’s founder, David A. Trott, has raised between $100,000 and $250,000 for the McCain campaign, reported the Michigan Messenger.

While Michigan Republicans are denying the Messenger report now, other reports indicated that Ohio Republicans planned to use similar tactics in that state. In Franklin, Ohio, for example, Doug Preisse, the local Republican Party boss, told a Columbus newspaper that his political machine plans to use foreclosure lists to exclude registered voters there.

Responding to these and other reports, Ohio’s Sen. Sherrod Brown said, ‘Just when you think you’ve seen it all, somebody sets a new low.’

‘Ohioans have faced enough slimy tactics used to discourage voting,’ Brown added, referring to vote-suppression schemes used by Republicans in that battleground state in 2004 and previously. ‘The Justice Department must work harder to prevent these shameful and illegal efforts. When someone loses their home, they should not lose their vote as well.’

Michigan Democrats told the media that it is difficult to believe Republican denials about the current charges given the fact that they used similar tactics to exclude, challenge or intimidate registered voters in the past.

The Michigan Messenger report noted that the Republican tactics were focused on Detroit, where the vast majority of home foreclosures came against African American homeowners, who largely support Democratic candidates and Barack Obama for president. The tactic could represent a violation of civil rights and voting rights laws.

Other were quick to point out that the ‘lose your home, lose your vote’ tactic also targets registered Latinos, whites and others caught up in the mortgage crisis and credit crunch that has swept the country.

In their letter to Attorney General Mukasey, the 14 senators wrote that questioning voter status based on foreclosure status would represent a new variant of voter ‘caging,’ a vote-suppression tactic to challenge whether voters are living at their registered addresses. The letter charged that even rumors of this type of vote ‘caging’ can discourage turnout and suppress the vote.

Home foreclosure is a lengthy process that does not always result in the homeowner’s eviction from the home. Using a list of addresses and foreclosure filings to challenge the residence of voters would therefore sweep up large numbers of properly registered voters, turning them away from the polls or forcing them to cast provisional ballots, the senators’ letter stated.

jwendland @politicalaffairs.net

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