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Brennan Center Applauds Introduction of House Bill to Protect Against “Voter Caging”

Voting rights experts at the Brennan Center applauded the introduction of legislation by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).

January 22, 2008

For Immediate Release: Monday, January 21, 2008

Contact: Jonathan Rosen, BerlinRosen Public Affairs (646) 452–5637

Brennan Center Applauds Introduction of House Bill to Protect Against “Voter Caging”

New York – Lawyers and voting rights experts at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law applauded the introduction last week of legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Conyers to ban ‘voter caging’. The bill was introduced in the Senate in November, 2007 by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Voter caging is the practice of sending mail to addresses on the voter rolls and using the list of returned mail as the basis to purge or challenge voters’ registrations on the grounds that those voters do not legally reside at their registered addresses.

“Voter caging produces bad lists that are used to purge or challenge the wrong people. Every voter should be protected against these shenanigans, and this legislation would do just that. We urge Congress to pass it in time to protect voters in 2008,” said Wendy Weiser, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center.

“Voter caging is notoriously unreliable and has repeatedly jeopardized the legitimate voting rights of tens of thousands of American citizens,” said Justin Levitt, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and an author of two policy briefs documenting the history and impact of voter caging on disenfranchising eligible citizens.

“Voter caging is not neutral. It is typically targeted at minority communities, and is often intended to disenfranchise legitimate voters” said Weiser. “In the last presidential election we saw preparation for voter caging efforts in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada and Pennsylvania. With this legislation we have a chance to ensure that this never happens again,” added Weiser.

Based on extensive study of voter registration processes, the Brennan Center has found that voter caging lists are highly likely to include the names of many voters who are in fact eligible to vote.

“There are many reasons why a bounced piece of mail is not a good indicator of eligibility. Voters – including active military personnel – may be registered at home but get their mail somewhere else. Like most government databases, vote rolls suffer from numerous typos and clerical errors that send the mail astray. Voters – especially homeless voters and people fleeing domestic violence – may list as their registration addresses shelters or government agencies. And voters move – sometimes in the same neighborhoods – but federal law keeps those voters eligible and registered to vote,” said Levitt.

The bill introduced by Conyers would also ban unreliable voter purges, like the notoriously flawed Florida purge in 2000, without interfering with legitimate efforts to clean the rolls.  The Florida purge disenfranchised thousands of eligible citizens, and narrowly missed disenfranchising thousands more – far more than the margin of victory for the presidential election.  Today’s bill would put a stop to such wildly inaccurate purges, and ensure that when the lists are cleaned, they are cleaned reliably.

For a full analysis of many proven instances of eligible voters being purged for these and other reasons please click here.

For a history of documented instances of voter caging from 1958–2004 please click here.

Levitt, the author of both policy briefs on caging, and Weiser, a national expert on voter registration and voting rights, are available to discuss the Conyers legislation with members of the media.