Michigan has the seventh-highest foreclosure rate and the highest unemployment rate in the nation. This November, state Republicans want to use that to their advantage. But they’re not talking about revisiting their social welfare platform. According to Michigan Messenger, they want to keep victims of the state’s economic crisis from voting.

Early last week, the Republican Party in Macomb County may have let that tactic slip. Because parties are allowed under state law to post “election challengers” at polling sites, reports from Michigan Messenger, an extension of the Center for Independent Media, say that the party intends to prevent victims of foreclosure from voting by arguing that they are not “true residents.” Party chairman James Carabelli allegedly told the online publication, “We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” citing his party’s concern that election laws be observed.

But even Carabelli and the rest of the Macomb Republicans don’t really buy that crap. Perhaps realizing the political repercussions of his statement, Carabelli claimed in a subsequent interview that the party has no such plans. The GOP asked Michigan Messenger to issue a retraction and, when it refused, released a statement yesterday saying Carabelli will take legal action today against the publication for libel.

None of this is surprising, really. Politicians love to cry “voter fraud” when they want to regulate voting laws to their advantage, especially Michigan Republicans. In 1999, then-state Sen. Mike Rogers disenfranchised college students across the state by pushing through a law that basically requires that the address on your driver’s license match the address on your voter registration card. Why? According to Rogers, to cut down on the supposedly rampant problem of voter fraud.

In reality, Rogers was vying for the U.S. House of Representatives in the same district as Michigan State University. But when you’re a Republican like Rogers, it’s hard to win in a district full of liberal college students. So the law turned out to be pretty convenient, actually — not only did it put to rest fears of voter fraud, but it also disenfranchised the constituency that could have effectively quelled Rogers’s congressional dreams. He won by just 115 votes, and Rogers’s Law is still on the books.

There’s no question that a plan to disenfranchise foreclosure victims would be motivated by politics, not voter fraud. The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth reported last year that blacks make up more than 60 percent of people with sub-prime loans, which are especially susceptible to foreclosure. Macomb Republicans know that, and they know that black voters are more likely to support Democrats than Republicans. It must be a coincidence that their “concerns” just happen to deal with the votes of their poor, largely black constituents. And it’s not surprising that they have no proof of voter fraud being a problem in Michigan, let alone among foreclosure victims, to substantiate their claims — as was the case with Rogers nine years ago.

Yesterday, Barack Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit against the Michigan GOP over this slowly erupting scandal. Citing the fact that a foreclosure notice does not always necessitate a change of address, as well as a state law allowing people to vote in their old precinct if they lose their home less than 60 days before an election, it seems the Democrats may have a valid case.

But potential illegalities aside, it’s sickening that anyone would want to kick these people when they’re down, simply for political gain. On top of the financial, emotional and psychological trauma of foreclosure, preventing these victims from voting in an election that, in many ways, matters to them most right now is “adding insult to injury,” as Mark Brewer, the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, put it. Meanwhile, candidates shamelessly pander to the blue-collar autoworkers who hold the key to putting them in office. Obviously they’re not quite the defenders of democracy they want us to think they are.

The fact that the leaders of the Michigan Republican Party care more about the vote than the voters should be telling. It’s a tired argument at this point, but still a valid one: We need to look past what politicians say and look at what they do. It’s past time to put the voter fraud ghost to rest, and as the past (and present) victims of a Republican using voter fraud for political gain, we should be on the front line of the fight.

Emmarie Huetteman is a Daily associate editorial page editor. She can be reached at huetteme@umich.edu.

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