Originally Published: 6/20/2007
By The Issue Wonk
In her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, former Justice Department liaison to the White House Monica Goodling referred to “vote caging” conducted by interim-appointed U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin. (See The Weekly Wonk, Monica Goodling’s Testimony, 5/26/07. Here’s the transcript.) Yet no one followed up on her statement, probably because few understand what vote caging is. It seems appropriate to delve into the practice of vote caging and allegations that the Republican Party engaged in it during the 2004 presidential election.
Caging is a direct-mail marketing maneuver to improve the quality of response to direct-mail solicitation. By removing addresses from the mailing list when prior mailings are returned, direct-mail marketers can save some money on the next mailing and increase the likelihood of a response. It’s legal and can probably be viewed as a legitimate means of conducting direct-mail marketing. When applied to voters, however, it becomes quite sinister indeed.
In vote caging, a form of voter suppression, mail is sent to registered voters marked “Do Not Forward.” According to Wikipedia, if the mail is returned as undeliverable (caged), the mailing party uses that fact to challenge the registration, “arguing that because the voter could not be reached at the address, the registration is fraudulent. A political party challenges the validity of a voter’s registration; for the voter’s ballot to be counted, the voter must prove that their registration is valid.” The mail may be undeliverable for several reasons: voters may have become homeless, students may be away at school, or, in the case of the 2004 election, registered voters may be in the military serving overseas. Even a typographical error made when the voter’s registration was entered into the system could make the address invalid. On election day, when the voter arrives at the polling place, “an operative of the party” challenges the validity of the registration. Voters who have no proof with them, must go home and get it. Voters in the military who voted absentee will just have the ballots disregarded. Voters may be allowed to vote provisional ballots, which are rarely counted. This is what the Republican Party is accused of doing.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) is accused of doing this prior to the 2004 presidential election. According to Wikipedia, tens of thousands of voter registrations in “contested” states like Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin were challenged. The RNC argued that this was necessary to combat voter fraud. But the Democratic Party countered that the challenges were tantamount to voter suppression since the RNC had targeted voter registrations on the basis of the race of the voter in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
This is not the first time the RNC has been accused of violating the Voting Rights Act. According to The Advancement Project:1
In 1981, after the Republican National Committee (RNC) allegedly compiled a challenge list of 45,000 individuals from returned mail sent to an outdated voter registration list, it attempted to have these individuals removed from the rolls. It also allegedly used off-duty county sheriffs and local policeman (sic) to watch polling places in predominantly African-American and Latino precincts, and posted signs in these areas that it was patrolling the area and that it was a crime to violate election laws. After a lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), a consent decree was entered directing the RNC to “refrain from undertaking any ballot security activities in polling places or election districts where the racial or ethnic composition of such districts is a factor in the decision to conduct . . . such activities.
In 1986, the RNC allegedly violated the Consent Decree by trying to have 31,000 Louisiana voters removed from the rolls after mail sent to them was returned undelivered. As a result, the Consent Decree was expanded to require that the RNC obtain prior court approval for all efforts to combat “voter fraud” other than normal poll watcher activities. The Amended Consent Decree is still in effect. [Emphasis added.]
So, according to Monica Goodling, the RNC has continued to engage in vote caging in defiance of the still standing Amended Consent Decree.2,3 What’s worse is that the White House and the Justice Department were aware of it and even gave the the head “cager,” Tim Griffin, then Research Director and Deputy Communications Director at the RNC, an interim appointment as U.S. Attorney.
1 Press Release. Advancement Project Granted Permission to Intervene in DNC vs. RNC. The Advancement Project, October 28, 2004.
2 Palast, Greg. Buffalo Soldiers Scrubbed by Secret GOP Hit List. Greg Palast, June 16, 2006.
3 Lithwick, Dahlia. Raging Caging: What the Heck is Vote Caging, and Why Should We Care? Slate, May 31, 2007.
© The Issue Wonk, 2007