Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hugs and Kisses Forever! Love, Monica!

Looking for all the world like a fugitive from a high school yearbook, Monica "Praise Jesus!" Goodling testified before the House Judiciary Committee, yesterday. It's been all over the blogs, of course, including Keith Ellison's questioning of Monica about Tom Heffelfinger. But there was one thing that hasn't gotten as much attention. That is Monica's dismissive attitude about the practice of caging to trim voter rolls of likely Democratic voters:

In her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee today, Monica Goodling — the Justice Department's former White House liaison — tried to dismiss the voter suppression allegations against [Tim] Griffin, a protege of Karl Rove, by calling caging just "a direct-mail term."

There is a video of Goodling's testimony on the subject at the link. Tim Griffin, incidentally, is now a US Attorney in Arkansas, a "Patriot Act" special, appointed without confirmation by the Senate. Here's what a commenter to the linked ThinkProgress post says about caging:

Actually, "caging" is a standard direct mail fundraising term, in widespread use for decades. I know this from working both in the direct mail business and Democratic campaigns. Its more recent use in reference to voter suppression is more recent.

The "cage" in "caging" refers to cash cages, the rooms in a casino that handle the counting and securing of cash, including selling chips for table games and handling the cash boxes from gaming machines.

In direct mail fundraising, the handling of responses, especially the money from those responses, is caging. It is a function that is often contracted out to enhance security and auditability — the contractor can invest in more stringent controls and surveillance as they are handling responses from any number of campaigns. As with other campaign service companies, they often specialize in either liberal or conservative organizations, but not always.

A "caging list" would originally have been a list of your party's contributors, organized by precinct. In other words, likely voters you want to make sure get to the polls, and vote unchallenged. The problem is that in recent years there have been charges (that seem to be well documented) that have twisted this to supress voting. A mailing is sent out to all the addresses in a precinct (often available in easy to use digital form from your local registrar of voters or a service firm), often for some legitimate fundraising. But a list is prepared of the address of each piece of mail that got bounced back as undeliverable. This list can be used to challenge the validity of voter registration, by asserting that the person does not live at that address.

The problem is, it can also mean that mail service to that area, say an inner city neighborhood, is crappy, or the mailbox was unreachable or unusable due to vandalism, etc. Problems that you don't see in the suburbs.

The Republicans have been doing this for years, in spite of a consent decree that supposedly prevents it:

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean today [October 31, 2006] sent a letter to Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman calling on the Republican leader to confirm that "the RNC will refrain from engaging in, assisting in or participating in any" program that could potentially disenfranchise voters in these midterm elections. The letter specifically calls on Mehlman to comply with both the letter and spirit of a "consent decree," which was entered into as a result of a lawsuit the DNC filed against the RNC over Republican so-called "ballot security" initiatives that targeted predominantly African American and Hispanic voters to keep them from exercising their fundamental right to vote.

This November it will have been 25 years since the RNC scheme was used in New Jersey by Republican operatives who compiled a list of 45,000 voters to challenge at the polls because mail to the address at which they were registered had been returned. RNC poll watchers tried to have those voters removed from the rolls, and Republican operatives employed off-duty county sheriffs and local police to watch polling places in predominantly African-American and Latino precincts where they had posted signs warning minority voters that it was a crime to violate election laws.

Spot has some suspicion that caging has been occurring on Minnesota's Indian reservations. (Although it is less important in Minnesota with the same-day registration system we have. Coupled with picture ID requirements, however, the effect could be greater in the future.) He hopes to have a chance to investigate that more. Tom Heffelfinger has been pretty straight with the Indian community, and it may explain why, in part, that Goodling cited his Indian efforts as a reason for desiring Heffelfinger's departure from the ranks of US Attorneys.

Update: Jack Balkin at Balkinization also just put up a post about this. Spot didn't know about it, honest.

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