Monday, October 06, 2008

An open letter to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie

We here at the Cucking Stool have spent plenty of time in the trenches working to ensure that all who are legally entitled to are allowed to vote. Spot has been a poll watcher in precincts where Republican Party appointed challengers were aggressive in trying to discourage voting. I’ve answered phones on election day when people like Spot were working through the potentially illegal voter suppression efforts in the last presidential election. Since 2004, Minnesota’s laws have changed to make arbitrary challenges by out of state poll watchers more difficult. But party-appointed poll watchers can still be assigned to precincts and challenge those casting ballots.

So after seeing an editorial in yesterday’s New York Times, our concerns have become focused on a problem likely to arise here in Minnesota:
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.

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It has been a long time since there were property requirements for voting. Election officials must not impose them now, by disenfranchising people because they have lost, or are losing, their homes.

The editorial rightly praised the Ohio Secretary of State’s efforts to eliminate confusion when the right of people whose homes might be in foreclosure seek to cast a ballot.

Mr. Ritchie, we are concerned as election day approaches and we see no evidence of efforts on your part to deal with what is likely to be the one area where voting challenges and disenfranchisement is likely to happen – those voters whose homes are currently in foreclosure.

In Minnesota, the only way to challenge voters is through written forms based upon personal knowledge. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how to best challenge minority voters in this state: Arm your GOP poll watchers with piles of preprinted challenges filled out with the addresses of homes in foreclosure in a particular precinct. When voters give the election judge the address, the challenge is made. This slows down the process for all, places election judges in a difficult situation, and discourages people from voting. It cannot go without notice that some of the most foreclosure heavy neighborhoods in Minneapolis and Saint Paul are also those with higher numbers of minority voters.

We are concerned because we see nothing on your website that would indicate that you have undertaken outreach to voters or to election officials on how to handle these challenges. Neither the 2008 Election Judge Guide nor the 2008 Campaign Manual even mention foreclosure, let alone give instruction on ensuring the rights of voters facing foreclosure.

We call upon you to begin efforts to train election judges on the specifics of why those facing foreclosure do not lose their right to vote. They should have guidance on helping legitimate voters cast a ballot and how to ward off bogus challenges to voting. In addition, a public education effort that assures those in financial crisis they have not lost their rights to vote ought to be aggressively implemented.

It would be a tragedy if those hit hardest by the economic practices of those in charge for the last eight years are denied the chance to vote for the candidate they think will help them most. Mr. Ritchie, you can help here, but there isn’t much time.

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