Some of the top presidential battleground states in the 2012 election also have some of the country’s highest foreclosure rates on single-family residences. Americans being forced from their homes could also face problems when they go to the polls in November, according to a new report.
Voters in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan are on the frontlines of what could be a combustible mix of residency issues and voting rights.
These four states ranked in the top 10 of those with the highest percentages of housing units in foreclosure in 2011. Nevada was number 1, Michigan came in 6th, Florida 7th and Colorado ranked 9th, according to a report released September 20 by Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN), a nonpartisan advocacy group.
At the same time, all four of these states have seen months of heavy campaigning by President Obama and Republican White House nominee Mitt Romney. Barrages of TV and radio ads, in combination with intense competition on down-ballot races, are expected to produce a robust turnout—unless aspirational voters are turned away.
The machinations behind proposed and passed voter ID laws in some states—and the primarily brown, poor, old and of-color demographics in the crosshairs of these ID laws—have been well chronicled. And now there could be an added wrinkle on Election Day, with voters registered at foreclosed homes finding themselves unable to vote.
“There’s often a lot of confusion about it,” Robert Brandon, cofounder and president of FELN, tells TakePart.
People who have moved because of foreclosure are not alone in facing registration and voting issues.
According to FELN, Florida and other states now prevent those already registered to update their addressees at the polling station on Election Day, or cast a regular ballot if they move across county lines.
“By doing so, Florida joined the majority of states in requiring an individual to reregister to vote if they move to a new jurisdiction,” FELN’s report states.
Voter registration close to Election Day is often restricted.
People who have moved because of foreclosure are not alone in facing registration and voting issues. Citizens who remain in their homes during the early stages of foreclosure often appear on foreclosure lists, and FELN cites examples of attempts to intimidate voters in foreclosure.
For instance, Macomb County, Michigan, Republicans were accused in 2008 of waging a “lose your home, lose your vote” vote-suppression program.
“The party subsequently stated that it would not use foreclosure lists as a basis for voter challenges,” FELN notes, but there was a chilling effect.
Granted, only a small percentage of voters will be impacted at the polls, but in a close election—remember Bush v. Gore?—small numbers of ballots can be crucial.
Right now, the presidential contest looks like a tight race in the four foreclosure-heavy states. A recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, which included Florida, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan, showed Obama leading Romney 48 to 46 percent.
What’s the solution? FELN believes states should be more flexible in their registration procedures.
“As homeowners who were once registered in a specific precinct, and who are likely to retain ties through work, school or a religious institution to that community, the law could allow such voters to vote from their foreclosed home address until they have established a new permanent residence and domicile,” the report concludes.
“It allows voters time to obtain identification needed to change their voter registration outside whatever state-imposed deadline might disenfranchise them during a period of residential and identification fluidity.”
Some 18 states, the report notes, already have this policy.
“All states should adopt it,” concludes FELN.
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Sean J. Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Back Stage, The Christian Science Monitor and The Hill.