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Kerry bill would outlaw 'caging'

Posted: 11-07-2007 08:11 AM
by SETIsLady
In a press release late Monday afternoon, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) announced that he had introduced legislation to ban the practice of "voter caging," a practice in which groups send mail to voters' addresses and then use "return to sender" envelopes to challenge the legitimacy of individual votes.

Wikipedia defines 'caging' as "a term of art in the direct mail industry, as well as a term applied to a technique of voter suppression. A caging list is a list or database of addresses, updated after a mailing program is completed, with notations on responses received from recipients, with corrections for addresses that mail has been returned undelivered from, or forwarded onward from."

In October 2004, the BBC reported on a list of "caging" targets that had been culled from an email allegedly sent by the Bush campaign. The email, which was errantly sent to GeorgeWBush.org instead of GeorgeWBush.com, contained "a list of 1,886 voter names and addresses in largely African-American and Democratic areas of Jacksonville."

“The practice of ‘caging’ is reprehensible and has absolutely no place in our democracy," Kerry said in the release. "Here in America, every citizen, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation has the right to cast his or her vote. These are the very foundations of our democracy and this bill will ensure that we protect fundamental freedoms for millions of voters across our country.”

The remainder of the release follows.

Caging is a voter suppression tactic in which a political party, campaign, or other entity sends mail marked “do not forward” or “return to sender” to a targeted group of voters – often minorities or residents of minority neighborhoods. A list of those whose mail was returned “undelivered” is then used as the basis for challenges to the right of those citizens to vote, on the grounds that the voter does not live at the address where he or she is registered. There are many reasons that mail could be returned undelivered, however; an eligible voter could be overseas on active military service or a student registered at a parent’s address.

There is evidence that caging lists were assembled in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania during the 2004 elections, possibly intended as the basis for massive voter eligibility challenges. The Florida incident made headlines again earlier this year during Congress’s investigation into the firing of several U.S. Attorneys, when allegations resurfaced that Tim Griffin, the former RNC opposition researcher then serving as an interim U.S. Attorney in Arkansas, had been involved in an effort to cage voters in Jacksonville.

The Caging Prohibition Act would prohibit challenges to a person’s eligibility to register to vote, or cast a vote, based solely on returned mail or a caging list. The bill would also mandate that anyone who challenges the right of another citizen to vote must set forth the specific grounds for their alleged ineligibility, under penalty of perjury.

Senators Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) joined Kerry as cosponsors of the Caging Prohibition Act. To date, the bill has also been endorsed by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and People for the American Way.

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