DMI Blog

Mark Winston Griffith

Homeowners in Michigan lose vote along with home?

Property ownership has always had a troubling connection to voting rights in this country. When the nation was founded, only white property owners, a tiny fraction of the population, could vote. And while most states had dropped property requirements for voting by the mid-eighteen hundreds, we've seen more recently, with the promotion of Bush's "ownership society" and the high premium placed on homeownership, that owning property again features prominently in our concept of economic citizenship.

Indeed, it's a slippery slope from the belief that homeowners are truer stakeholders and fulfillers of the American dream to the notion that homeowners are more legitimate Americans. That's just one of the many disturbing aspects of the recent revelation, as reported by the Michigan Meseanger, that the chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County in Michigan is "planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day."

“We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” party chairman James Carabelli told Michigan Messenger in a telephone interview earlier this week. He said the local party wanted to make sure that proper electoral procedures were followed.

State election rules allow parties to assign “election challengers” to polls to monitor the election. In addition to observing the poll workers, these volunteers can challenge the eligibility of any voter provided they “have a good reason to believe” that the person is not eligible to vote. One allowable reason is that the person is not a “true resident of the city or township.”

The Michigan Republicans’ planned use of foreclosure lists is apparently an attempt to challenge ineligible voters as not being “true residents."

Defenders of this move will say it's about combating voter fraud and has nothing to do with homeownership. But the connection between, in this instance, losing your home and being denied the right to vote, is unmistakable. Considering, as a representative from ACORN alleges in the Michigan Messenger article, that Republican legislators have failed to move on a foreclosure prevention bill in the Michigan state legislature, home ownership loss could easily emerge as a potent method of disenfranchisement.

The biggest flaw in checking whether a voter has been foreclosed to challenge residency is that many people still live in their homes long after a foreclosue action has commenced. Even if a family has moved out of their home, they might be in temporary housing, in which case, their actual place of residence is, at best, up for debate. And depending on the timing of the foreclosure, even if the voter did re-register, the new registration might not meet the deadline qualifying them to vote in an upcoming election.

Perhaps this signals a new campaign front for anti-foreclosure advocacy and organizing: The creation of a homeowner protection law that allows a resident who has been foreclosed on to claim that home as a legal residence for a certain period of time. That of course is contingent on the political establishment having a greater interest in protecting the rights of citizenship that stripping them away.

Mark Winston Griffith: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 9:46 AM, Sep 12, 2008 in Economic Opportunity
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