In a conference call Tuesday, the Democratic National Committee's top election lawyer announced a lawsuit filed in federal court in Michigan to enjoin the Republican Party from pursuing plans, first reported by a Michigan blog, to challenge voters whose homes were in the process of foreclosure.
Yesterday (Wednesday), the Republican National Committee hit back, issuing a press release highlighting allegedly fraudulent voter registration cards in a swing state, New Mexico; issuing another press release decrying the Democrats' Michigan lawsuit; and finally holding a press conference call denying the truth of the lawsuit's fundamental allegation -- an admission by Macomb County (Mich.) Republican Party chairman James Carabelli to a reporter for the Michigan Messenger that the party planned to challenge all voters whose homes were in the process of being foreclosed (an event which does not legally disenfranchise the homeowner or necessarily alter his or her voting location).
The Michigan suit is only the beginning of numerous lawsuits, Federal Elections Commission complaints, and other legal maneuvering likely to arise around the country as Election Day nears, and both the public relations spin and legal proceedings themselves in Michigan are likely to become increasingly complex. In the days and weeks to come, I'll be writing much more about this, as part of my expanded "beat" for OffTheBus. The starting point of any solid analysis, however, is always the facts -- so below, without analysis, are the basics of the battle royal that's starting to brew in the Wolverine State:
On September 10, the Michigan Messenger blog's Eartha Jane Melzer reported the Republicans' plans in a story titled "Lose Your House, Lose Your Vote."
On September 11, Melzer reported that the source of the story, James Carabelli, had recanted and now claimed to have "no plans to do anything." However, in the same story, Melzer also cited Michigan Republican Party attorney Eric Doster as saying that the state party did plan to systematically challenge Democratic voters on Election Day using other methods, possibly including vote "caging" (in which the party sends postcards to Democratic voters then uses any cards returned by the post office as evidence that the voter does not exist or does not live at that address).
On September 11 or 12, the Michigan Republican Party issued a press release demanding that the Michigan Messenger retract its stories. In a September 12 post adamantly standing behind his reporter and providing more details on how the original "Lose Your House" story developed, the Messenger's editor refused to do so.
On September 15, Melzer followed up on her earlier stories by reporting on an interview she did with a former Michigan Republican operative, who explained how and why the state party intended to suppress the Democratic vote using foreclosure lists, "caging" and other tactics.
On Tuesday, September 16, Carabelli issued a press release on the Michigan Republican Party website threatening to sue the Michigan Messenger for libel. The same day, the Obama campaign, the Democratic Party, and three Michigan voters filed suit in federal court, seeking an injunction to prevent Republican "caging" and other voter suppression efforts.
Also on Tuesday, the Democratic Party (including its chief election lawyer, Bob Bauer) held a press conference call to discuss the Michigan lawsuit, the Republicans' history of "caging" practices, and the consent decrees entered in other states which Bauer claims both prove that the Republican Party engages in illegal voter suppression efforts and bar the suppression program planned for Michigan. Here's the audio of that call (very beginning cut off due to computer problems):
To round out the day, fourteen Democratic senators -- including Barack Obama and both of Michigan's senators -- signed a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, demanding an investigation into the Michigan Republicans' alleged voter suppression plan.
Yesterday, September 17, the Republican National Committee issued a press release -- subject line, complete with graphic, reading "VOTER FRAUD ALERT" -- with a link to an Albuquerque paper's article (subscription required) on possible fraudulent voter registrations in New Mexico, a swing state this year.
The RNC also issued a "memorandum" on September 17 from its chief counsel, Sean Cairncross, titled "Old Democrat Attacks Have Returned" and stating, "Yesterday's announcement ... should come as no surprise. It is right out of the Democrats' playbook, which calls for a 'pre-emptive strike' and allegations of 'voter suppression' where none exist."
Later in the day, the RNC also held a press conference call during which Cairncross repeated those allegations, accusing the Democratic Party of having an explicit "playbook" that calls for Democratic operatives to make false allegations of election fraud and criticizing the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party for basing a lawsuit on "a blog post." Here's audio of that call in its entirety: