This morning, my NPR affiliate broadcast a short debate on Tuesday’s ballot questions. The representative from the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance (MFA) was, to say the least, untruthful about the Citizen’s United. To add insult to injury, I was reading the Massterlist at lunch and came across the MFA employing a tried-and-true method for voter suppression: voter caging.
Suggesting the possibility of “serious problems” with voting in the Sept. 4 primary, a right-leaning organization is calling on Secretary of State William Galvin to investigate returned mail sent to 571 people the group says were recorded as voting.
“With early voting starting, it is imperative that your office and others ensure that only appropriate voters vote in the upcoming election,” Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance Executive Director Carl Copeland wrote in an Oct. 23 letter to Galvin and state elections divisions director Michelle Tassinari.
Norton did quote Maurice Cunningham, a UMass-Boston professor, who referred to the move as voter suppression, but shed no light on the actual tactic or, frankly, the anti-democratic ugliness of the Mass Fiscal Alliance’s attempt at voter caging. The MFA’s motives may have more to do with trying slime Secretary of State William Galvin than providing a pretext for voter suppression. Either way, it falsely calls the integrity of voting into question. As the Brennan Center explains,
Voter caging is a distinct form of caging, and much more dangerous. Voter caging is the practice of sending mail to addresses on the voter rolls, compiling a list of the mail that is returned undelivered, and using that list to purge or challenge voters registrations on the grounds that the voters on the list do not legally reside at their registered addresses.
Supporters of voter caging defend the practice as a means of preventing votes cast by ineligible voters. Voter caging, however, is notoriously unreliable. If it is treated (unjustifiably) as the sole basis for determining that a voter is ineligible or does not live at the address at which he or she registered, it can lead to the unwarranted purge or challenge of eligible voters.
Mass Fiscal Alliance knows the playbook, which the Republican National Committee ran throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.
“A first-class stamp guarantees a return to our office on any letter that is deemed undeliverable,” the alliance wrote in an Oct. 24 memo to supporters. “If any letters are returned, that raises a major red flag. People are supposed to live at the address where they are registered to vote, and if they cannot receive letters at that address it is an indication that something could possibly be awry.”
The red flag, of course, is Republican politics. The Mass Fiscal Alliance’s biggest “concern”:
the sizable rate of return for the City of Lawrence. 2.61% of registered voters were unable to be contacted through the postal service at their registered addresses.