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What Is "Vote Caging" And Why Does It Matter?
Dahlia Lithwick at Slate writes about a little-known term Monica Goodling used in her testimony about, as Lithwick calls him, "Arkansas' soon to be ex-interim, never-confirmed U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin":

Goodling told the judiciary committee that: 1) Griffin was possibly involved in caging; 2) he doesn't believe he did anything wrong (she is less certain, it seems); and 3) McNulty lied under oath when he downplayed his knowledge of these allegations to the committee.

That would suggest that vote caging is a big deal. Is it?

Vote caging is an illegal trick to suppress minority voters (who tend to vote Democrat) by getting them knocked off the voter rolls if they fail to answer registered mail sent to homes they aren't living at (because they are, say, at college or at war). The Republican National Committee reportedly stopped the practice following a consent decree in a 1986 case. Google the term and you'll quickly arrive at the Wizard of Oz of caging, Greg Palast, investigative reporter and author of the wickedly funny Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans—Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild. Palast started reporting allegations of Republican vote caging for the BBC's Newsnight in 2004. He's been almost alone on the story since then. Palast contends, both in Armed Madhouse and widely through the liberal blogosphere, that vote caging, an illegal voter-suppression scheme, happened in Florida in 2004 this way:

The Bush-Cheney operatives sent hundreds of thousands of letters marked "Do not forward" to voters' homes. Letters returned ("caged") were used as evidence to block these voters' right to cast a ballot on grounds they were registered at phony addresses. Who were the evil fakers? Homeless men, students on vacation and—you got to love this—American soldiers. Oh yeah: most of them are Black voters.

Why weren't these African-American voters home when the Republican letters arrived? The homeless men were on park benches, the students were on vacation—and the soldiers were overseas.

Palast supplies evidence linking Tim Griffin, then-research director for the RNC, to this caging plot; specifically, a series of confidential e-mails to Republican Party muckety-mucks with the suggestive heading "RE: caging." The e-mails were accidentally sent to a George Bush parody site. They also contained suggestively named spreadsheets, headed "caging" as well. The names on the lists are what Palast's researchers deemed to be homeless men and soldiers deployed in Iraq. Here are the e-mails.

As Palast points out—and Griffin himself has observed—the American media barely touched this story, and Griffin has yet to explain the e-mails or the lists. He did tell The New Yorker's Jane Mayer last March that "caging is not a derogatory term. ... [I]t's a direct-mail term. It derives from caging categories of mail in steel shelves and files." Still, that hardly explains why he was allegedly caging only transient African-American voters in those shelves or files, which would likely violate the Voting Rights Act.

Palast is surely not above overstatement. He is one of many who have repeated the claim that, "In an Aug. 24 e-mail, the Justice Department's Monica Goodling wrote to Sampson, that Griffin's nomination would face opposition in Congress because he was involved 'in massive Republican projects in Florida and elsewhere by which Republicans challenged tens of thousand of absentee votes. Coincidentally, many of those challenged votes were in black precincts.' " Goodling wrote no such thing. That quote is from an article circulated by Goodling on Aug. 24. It's an unfair smear of both Griffin and Goodling (both of whom have proven amply capable of smearing themselves).

Still, Palast's vote-caging claims are hardly unbelievable. Republicans have been systematically trying to suppress minority votes for decades, most recently calling it pushback for rampant liberal voter fraud. Our own former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was alleged to have mastered the art. And while bouncing voters from the rolls on the basis of their race violates federal law, it's not beyond imagining that eager young "loyal Bushies" aren't all that bothered by federal laws, especially if there's a way to bend rather than overtly break them.

Posted by aalkon at June 2, 2007 10:41 AM

Comments

Griffin is also a possible manager for Fred Thompson's campaign. I don't think this says much about Thompson's being an independent-minded candidate.

Posted by: justin case at June 2, 2007 1:04 PM

Nothing like getting the sleaze going right from the start!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at June 3, 2007 6:44 AM

I don't quite get the part about sending mail to the home...of a homeless guy?

Posted by: doombuggy at June 4, 2007 4:57 AM

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