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Chairman Conyers Introduces Bill to Fight Voter Caging

January 17, 2008

From the Judiciary Committee:

Conyers Introduces Bill to Fight Voter Caging

(Washington, DC)- Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) introduced the Caging Prohibition Act of 2008. Voter caging is a practice by which mail is sent to a registered voter’s address and, if the mail is returned as “undeliverable” or if it is delivered and the voter does not respond, his or her registration is challenged in order to suppress voter turnout. This may occur even if the voter has simply moved across a college campus or to another location on a miltary base, or simply does not respond to what one might assume is junk mail. It is estimated that the practice has resulted in tens of thousands of voters – often soldiers, college students and low-income families – being purged from the rolls.

“During the 2004 Election, challengers monitored every single one of Detroit's 254 polling stations,” Conyers said. “With a Michigan lawmaker advocating “suppress the Detroit vote,” it was obvious why the challengers were at every polling place — to create a tense and hostile environment for those eligible voters who simply wished to participate in our democracy by casting a ballot.”

The bill was cosponsored by Reps. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Mike Honda (D-CA), John Barrow (D-GA), and John Yarmuth (D-KY), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Steven Cohen (D-TN), and Keith Ellison (D-MN). It seeks to make voter caging illegal with the following provisions:

· Provides that the right to register to vote or vote shall not be denied by election officials if the denial is based on voter caging and other questionable challenges not corroborated by independent evidence.
· Prohibits persons other than election officials from challenging a voter's eligibility based on voter caging and other questionable challenges.
· Requires that any voter challenge by persons other than election officials be based on personal, first-hand knowledge.
· Designates voter-caging and other questionable challenges intended to disqualify eligible voters as felonies, crimes eligible for fines up to $250,000, five years imprisonment, or both.

“Voter caging is inconsistent with the principle that every eligible citizen should be entitled to the right to vote,” Conyers added. “The Caging Prohibition Act of 2007 will clearly define and criminalize voter caging and other questionable challenges intended to disqualify eligible voters.”

Chairman Conyers questioned Former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty on the issue of “caging” during his testimony in June:

Chairman Conyers:
“We’ve got a whole chain of testimony, this is one of the big issues that came out of at least a couple of major elections in this country, and you’re saying ‘yes, I was told about it, yes, it was in my tab in the briefing book for Senate testimony, and yes, I looked at the article but I didn’t read it’ — why does it not generate much concern or attention to you? For me, voter rights is one of the big problems we have in having it enforced in the Department of Justice.”