Foreclosures and the Right to Vote


The foreclosure crisis could do considerable damage to the nation’s voting system. More than a million people have lost their homes in the past two years. And because voter registration is based on people’s residences, they could face politically motivated challenges at the polls.

The problem may be especially acute in the presidential battleground states. In Ohio, more than 5 percent of home mortgages are seriously delinquent or in the foreclosure process, and there were more than 67,000 foreclosure actions in the first half of 2008. Michigan and Florida have also been hard hit.

There are a large number of advocacy groups and other programs that work to ensure that minorities, the disabled and students are able to cast ballots. Because the foreclosure crisis is so recent, not much work has been done to ensure that people who lose their homes do not also lose their chance to vote.

Election officials should also ensure that there are enough poll workers to handle the disputes and confusion that could arise — and that they are properly instructed in the law

Many of the hardest-hit neighborhoods are low- income and minority areas, which tend to vote Democratic. That means officials have to be extra vigilant to ensure that Republicans do not use foreclosure lists to challenge voters. There was a dust-up recently in Michigan, after a progressive Web site quoted the Republican chairman of Macomb County as saying that his party planned to do just that. He and the party insist there are no such plans, but the Barack Obama campaign has filed suit to block foreclosure-based challenges.

Whatever happens in Macomb County, where nearly one in every 100 households is in foreclosure, it is likely that in at least some parts of the country there will be challenges to voters who have lost their homes. There is also a real danger that voters who are in foreclosure will be misled or intimidated into not casting ballots.

It is important that state and local elections officials do everything they can to help people caught up in foreclosure to cast ballots. They should make clear that in many circumstances, people in foreclosure still have the right to vote where they have been living. The rules vary by state. They should also widely advertise how people who leave their homes can change their registration, to vote from their new addresses.

via NYT editorial: Foreclosures and the Right to Vote


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