July 28, 2008
What impact will displaced voters have on the 2008 election?
Overlooked in the discussions of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and the bursting of the housing bubble is the plight of these formerly stable homeowners when it comes to being able to vote in the upcoming Presidential election.
The numbers of those who have lost their homes just this year is staggering. Almost a million homes lost in the first six months of this year:
Foreclosures are up 120%. Some 220,000 homes were lost to repossession in the last quarter, and another 739,714 entered foreclosure in the first quarter. That’s one in every 171 American homes involved in what Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson euphemistically calls the “housing correction”…. http://www.boomantribune.com/story/2008/7/28/142127/083
At this pace there will be another million homes foreclosed on by the end of the year, for a total of at least 2 million voters forced out of their homes. Many of them can’t bunk down in their cars because the repo business is booming and their cars are gone, too. Some of them will end up in tent cities or homeless shelters. Some will find a friendly couch with family or friends. They will be the kind of economic refugee not seen in this country since the Great Depression of the ’30’s.
In the midst of this chaos, few people will be worrying about their voter registration until it may be too late. Most jurisdictions require the voter to contact local election officials any time their address changes. Those who have been booted from their homes by foreclosure are likely too busy scrambling to put a roof over their head to worry about updating their voter registration. On the other hand, election officials will find it difficult to track these displaced voters.
In many cities entire neighborhoods are suffering from a blight of boarded-up empty houses.
From Atlanta’s urban core to leafy neighborhoods filled with chirping crickets in Charlotte, N.C., some 2.2 million homes are expected to go through foreclosure – and stand empty – by the time the mortgage meltdown ends, according to Global Insight, an economic research firm. As the housing dominoes fall far from Wall Street, growing urban “ghost towns” of vacant houses are resulting in a costly crush of weeds, trash, and dereliction on a scale unseen in American cities since the Great Depression, economists say.
So far this year we have had at least 1 million voters uprooted, with more to come.
In addition to the list of voters displaced by foreclosure, there are the hundreds or possibly thousands who have lost their homes to wildfires in California, hurricanes in the Gulf or floods in the Midwest.
One thing they all have in common is the loss of their voting residence. In many cases they have also lost the means of proving their identity when flood waters or wildfires sweep away their possessions.
In states with stringent voter ID requirements updating voter registration will be nearly impossible. So these voters will be effectively purged from the voter rolls come November. Even in states without draconian voter ID requirements, updating voter registration will be just another challenge to be dealt with and may be far down the “to-do” list of many who are struggling with basic shelter needs.
Certain critical states will be disproportionately affected by high foreclosure rates. Ohio, the state which gave George Bush his 2004 victory over Kerry, is on that list of high-foreclosure battleground states.
Columbus (Ohio) ranked 32nd among U.S. cities in the number of foreclosure filings during the first quarter of 2008, according to RealtyTrac, a Web site that lists homes on the market in most cities. Cleveland, Dayton, Akron, Toledo and Cincinnati also were among the top 50, and Ohio was ninth among states during May, with one filing for every 410 homes.
Other battleground states rank high in foreclosure filings as well: Nevada led the nation in May with one filing for every 118 homes, while Florida was fourth, Michigan fifth, Georgia sixth, Colorado seventh and New Jersey 10th. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/07/06/politics/main4235328.shtml
If the vote count is close in any of these states, the margin of victory for McCain or Obama could well hinge on whether these displaced voters are able to update their registrations and cast a ballot.
If the election is a landslide, the impact of these lost votes might be negligible. But it is not too early to try to figure out how to re-register these displaced voters — just in case.