November 6, 2007
13 Senators take a stand against voter caging
Until Greg Palast wrote about voter caging in Florida during the 2000 election cycle, it was a practice that was under the radar of voting rights activists. Reporting for the BBC Palast exposed this ugly voter suppression tool in 2004 in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. That is not to suggest that voter caging did not exist elsewhere, just that the best documentation on this practice exists for those three states.
Now John Kerry, the Democratic Presidential nominee in 2004, who lost Ohio due to voter caging and other dirty voter suppression tricks, has stepped forward as lead sponsor on a bill to outlaw voter caging. Joining Kerry in co-sponsoring the Caging Prohibition Act are 12 other Democratic Senators including Presidential candidates Dodd, Obama and Clinton.
One might recall a recent incident where a college student was tasered after asking John Kerry whether he had read Greg Palast’s book “Armed Madhouse.” Lost in the discussion of whether the student should have been tasered, was Kerry’s answer to the student’s question: the junior senator from Massachusetts said that he had indeed read the book. Based on his introduction of this latest bill to ban voter caging, it would appear that Kerry decided to take action on what he learned from Palast’s book.
So what exactly is voter caging? According to Wikipedia, voter caging is defined as
“a term of art in the direct mail industry, as well as a term applied to a technique of voter suppression. A caging list is a list or database of addresses, updated after a mailing program is completed, with notations on responses received from recipients, with corrections for addresses that mail has been returned undelivered from, or forwarded onward from.”
What makes voter caging so ugly is that mail marked “do not forward” can be targeted at groups that the sender has reason to know will not be home to receive it, such as military personnel serving overseas or college students away at school receiving mail at their parents’ address. Palast discovered that some of the caging lists that he examined consisted of African-American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Once the mail comes back, the “undelivered” mail is used as the basis for challenges to the right of those citizens to vote, on the grounds that the voter does not live at the address where he or she is registered. This can result in mass disenfranchisement of targeted groups of voters.
Kerry rightly puts this practice in perspective in the press release concerning the bill:
“The practice of ‘caging’ is reprehensible and has absolutely no place in our democracy. Here in America, every citizen, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation has the right to cast his or her vote. These are the very foundations of our democracy and this bill will ensure that we protect fundamental freedoms for millions of voters across our country.”
The Caging Prohibition Act would prohibit challenges to a person’s eligibility to register to vote, or cast a vote, based solely on returned mail or a caging list. The bill would also mandate that anyone who challenges the right of another citizen to vote must set forth the specific grounds for their alleged ineligibility, under penalty of perjury.
Here is the list of senators co-sponsoring this bill:
Senators Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) joined Kerry as cosponsors of the Caging Prohibition Act.
To date, the bill has also been endorsed by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and People for the American Way.