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Voter Challenges & Caging

Unfair challenges or caging practices may lead to the removal of eligible voters from the voter rolls. To guard against these problems, the Brennan Center provides legal assistance to government officials and advocates seeking to ensure that challenges are non-discriminatory and do not result in the disenfranchisement of eligible voters.

Published: August 31, 2015

Unfair chal­lenges or caging prac­tices may lead to the removal of eligible voters from the voter rolls. To guard against these prob­lems, the Bren­nan Center provides legal assist­ance to govern­ment offi­cials and advoc­ates seek­ing to ensure that chal­lenges are non-discrim­in­at­ory and do not result in the disen­fran­chise­ment of eligible voters.

Voter Chal­lenges

Voter chal­lenges are formal chal­lenges lodged by polit­ical oper­at­ives or private citizens to the eligib­il­ity of persons present­ing them­selves to vote, either at the polls or prior to Elec­tion Day. Voter chal­lenge laws vary from state to state, as do legally permiss­ible chal­lenge prac­tices. When chal­lenges are used improp­erly, they can have the effect of intim­id­at­ing voters or suppress voter parti­cip­a­tion.

Because this conduct has the poten­tial to inter­fere with an eligible citizen’s vote, it is import­ant to have a clear under­stand­ing of what is and is not allowed under the law. Specific­ally, voters should be armed with the know­ledge that federal and state law afford protec­tions against “ballot secur­ity efforts” — an umbrella term for a vari­ety of prac­tices that are carried out by polit­ical oper­at­ives and private groups with the stated goal of prevent­ing voter fraud — when they are discrim­in­at­ory, intim­id­at­ing, decept­ive, or when they seek to disen­fran­chise voters on the basis of unre­li­able inform­a­tion. Those who parti­cip­ate in ballot secur­ity programs should take care to ensure that their initi­at­ives do not encroach upon the rights of eligible voters and run afoul of state and federal laws.

Voter Caging

Voter caging is a tactic that jeop­ard­izes eligible citizens’ abil­ity to vote. The process involves efforts to identify and disen­fran­chise improp­erly registered voters solely on the basis of an undeliv­er­able mail­ing. The most common method involves three steps:

  • send mail to addresses on the voter rolls,
  • compile a list of the mail that is returned undelivered, and
  • use that list to purge or chal­lenge voters’ regis­tra­tions on the grounds that the voters on the list do not legally reside at their registered addresses. 

Support­ers of voter caging defend the prac­tice as a means of prevent­ing votes cast by ineligible voters. Voter caging, however, is notori­ously unre­li­able. If it is treated as the sole basis for determ­in­ing that a voter is ineligible or does not live at the address at which he or she registered, it can lead to the unwar­ran­ted purge or chal­lenge of eligible voters.