House To Hold Hearing on Scheme to Disenfranchise Foreclosed Homeowners

The controversy over Michigan Republicans' reported plans to identify people whose homes are in foreclosure and publicly challenge their right to vote on Election Day -- a report that Republican Party officials now deny -- is continuing to escalate.

Today, the Michigan Messenger news blog is reporting that the House Judiciary Committee, headed by Michigan Congressman John Conyers, will be holding hearings into the alleged "caging" scheme, which some reports indicate is planned for Michigan and Ohio and possibly other "battleground" states. A Committee spokesman confirmed to me this morning that such a hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday but said the witness list and other details probably will not be finalized until tomorrow. A spokesperson for the Messenger, which also broke the original story about the voter suppression plan in Michigan ("Lose Your House, Lose Your Vote"), said that their reporter was not expected to be called to testify.

The hearing on Capitol Hill may draw more attention to a controversy that has the potential to affect key precincts in swing states in a close election but that has drawn little attention as national media have focused primarily on a meltdown in financial markets. Wednesday's Judiciary Committee hearing, which will occur at the same time as political leaders negotiate a $700 billion "bailout" of troubled financial institutions necessitated, in part, by a sharp rise in the numbers of home foreclosures, may raise the profile of the parties' struggles to affect voter turnout by legal and bureaucratic means.

The upcoming hearing will be just one more escalation of a controversy that has become increasingly belligerent over the past ten days. After the "Lose Your House' story broke, Democrats filed a lawsuit in a Michigan federal court seeking an injunction to block voter challenges. Last week, fourteen U.S. Senators and 33 Congresspeople wrote letters to Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking for an investigation into the "vote caging" allegations. On Saturday, the Republican National Committee's chief counsel, Sean Cairncross, convened a telephonic press conference to highlight a minor correction made in the Michigan Messenger's "Lose Your House" story, predicting that the news blog will recant the entire story soon. However, a Messenger representative has confirmed to me that the blog continues to stand by its reporting.

In Saturday's conference call, Cairncross also denied that the Republican Party ever engages in illegal voter suppression, notwithstanding court decrees, findings and convictions documenting Republican efforts to discourage minority and low-income voters from casting ballots in the past. OTB's coverage of that call, and of a key Democrat's response, can be read here. OTB's coverage of the original story and of a Democratic lawsuit to prevent such challenges can be read here.

The Michigan Messenger reports today:

In a letter to Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, released simultaneously, Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Detroit, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, asked McCain to denounce any efforts by the Republican Party to engage in voter suppression, including challenges based on a voter's home foreclosure status. Conyers requested that McCain direct his supporters to refrain from using that tactic.

"At a time when Americans are losing their homes at record numbers, it is difficult to imagine that anyone would attempt to capitalize on such misfortune for political gain," Conyers wrote. "Furthermore, a rejection of this strategy would be consistent with your recent commitment to a "fair and transparent election."

Last week the McCain campaign announced that it had formed an Honest and Open Election Committee, "with a mission to ensure that every qualified citizen has the opportunity to vote in a fair and transparent manner." In a press release that did not include contact information, the McCain campaign Web site announced on Sept. 15, "The committee will work with state and local election officials to anticipate, and where possible resolve in advance, problems likely to arise on Election Day."

Calls by Michigan Messenger to the McCain campaign/Honest and Open Election Committee were not returned.

Read the rest of the Michigan Messenger article here.