Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October Files: How to Steal an Election in 10 Days

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at http://www.DemocraticConventionWatch.com

Fence_3 Every election year, the media and the public stand in amazement at the low numbers of voter turnout (though that will not be the case this year). But the low turnout is in part by design - campaigns work hard to turnout voters that they have identified as supporters or likely supporters. If a voter does not fall into one of those categories - they ain't gettin' worked to get to the polls.

Yet in the process of determining who supporters are, there are other unscrupulous activities that Republicans have used in recent years to isolate voters who will likely vote for Democrats, and challenge those votes if and when an election is called into question.

This is called vote caging.

Here's how it works: a Republican consultant will send mail to a target neighborhood in order to persuade voters to support the GOP ticket. While sending this mail, they may choose to target a number of highly Democratic precincts - ones which are extremely unlikely to vote for a Republican. Ever. The mail says "do not forward" on it, so any mail that is undeliverable is returned to the mail house, and the vendor then compiles a list of names from the returned mail.

This list of names comes in handy if an election is called into question, because it now gives the campaign a list of voters and a basis (albeit a bad one) to challenge within Democratic precincts. If after election day, the count in the ballots is still close, or if the election is taken to court, this list of voters is one that can be challenged and attempted to be tossed out.

Note: mail that is returned because it could not be forwarded it is a very inaccurate way to determine if a voter lives at a particular address. Mail is forwarded for all sorts of reasons: military personnel who are deployed, people who have been away from their home because they are away on business (such as I have been for the past few months), or it could even be something as simple as the mail box was too full and thus the mail couldn't be delivered that day.

An in-depth analysis of vote caging can be found on page 14 of this report by Common Cause.

The term "vote caging" originally referred to the center cage in a mail house (similar to a casino) where returned mail was processed. It now refers to isolating a group of voters and "caging" or "jailing" their votes when deemed politically advantageous.

Vote caging has been an integral part of the Republican playbook for years.

The good news is that many states and counties have drafted regulations to prevent these actions from being valid now; some require that the only way to challenge a vote is if a neighbor has personal knowledge of a voter not living in an area (in other words they can't use a list produced by a vendor), some areas require voters who file objections to sign sworn affidavits, and some counties now allow voters to cast ballots in old precincts if they still live within the same county.

The bad news is that there are still a lot of localities that don't have rules guarding against vote caging, and as such could be susceptible to challenge after the election.