In 2008, a scary, inaccurate adage made the rounds: Lose your house, lose your vote. It spread after the Michigan Messenger, a publication that described itself as “a coalition of long-time progressive bloggers, freelance writers and professional journalists,” reported that a local Republican group was planning to use lists of foreclosed homes to keep people from voting.
The local Republican chairman quoted in the article denied the plot in the aftermath, but the Obama campaign filed suit to block the party from using foreclosures lists regardless. The case was eventually dismissed in October 2008 with an agreement from both the RNC and DNC that foreclosed homes would not be used as a means of challenging voter eligibility. But at least one legal group, and some liberal strategists, have raised the concern that the presence of new political players could mean a resurgence of old tactics—those new players mainly being Tea Party-ers, of course.
Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the democracy program at NYU law school’s Brennan Center for Justice, was part of a panel at the National Press Club in D.C. that recently discussed various threats to the vote. Considering the historically high foreclosure rates, she says, this “incredibly heartless and unfair” act is “something to be looking out for” because it’s the “first time we’ve seen widespread ballot security operations organized by people who are not the major parties.”
“Ballot security” is a phrase the Republican party has long used to refer to their battle against voter fraud but which has also come to connote plans of voter intimidation, especially toward minority groups. The seminal case is from the 1981 New Jersey gubernatorial election, in which the RNC was accused, amongst other things, of “posting off-duty sheriffs and policemen – some of whom were wearing equipment normally associated with law enforcement personnel such as two-way radios and firearms – at polling places in minority precincts,” according to court documents. “The officers involved in the program wore armbands emblazoned with a seemingly official title: ‘National Ballot Security Task Force.’”
Despite some allegations, so far there’s only been solid evidence of the Tea Party-ers holding voter challenger training, not of them using it for nefarious purposes. And training people to monitor the polls, though that can be a cover for schemes, is no scheme itself. “We need folks to watch what happens at the polls on Nov. 2nd and make sure there’s no shenanigans by Acorn, etc.,” wrote one Tea Party group alongside their advertisement for training. “We have to be prepared for hi-jinks and trickery this election as some races are so very close,” wrote another.
Both the worries about and from the Tea Party about various misbehavior at this point seem to be fear-mongering (or overzealous hand-wringing) more than anything. That said, with one out of every 371 homes receiving a foreclosure filing in September, this alarm-ringing can serve as a good reminder that while rules vary a bit from state to state, the best creed is that losing your home doesn’t mean losing your vote. And that people should presume they are empowered to cast their ballot no matter what obstacles they encounter at the polls.