So far it has been state’s restrictive voter ID laws that have received the majority of media attention, but in the wake of a foreclosure crisis that is not over yet, there’s another disenfranchisement threat lurking.
The Fair Elections Legal Network released a report “Lose Your Home, Keep Your Vote: How to Protect Voters Caught Up in Foreclosure” that highlights the confusion and difficulties victims of foreclosure may face when determining how to vote this November and draws attention to this voter crisis in the making. The report lays out practical answers for election officials and voters on how to protect their right to vote, including how to identify the correct polling location and what, if any, additional information voters may need to bring to meet voting requirements. The report includes state guides for 15 states most impacted by the foreclosure crisis, provides much needed clarity for those facing foreclosure and organizations that work with these voters.
“Voting is the foundation of our democracy. People dealing with the foreclosure process or whose homes have been foreclosed upon have enough to deal with without worrying about their vote counting. With foreclosures on the rise again, the question shouldn’t be if a voter facing foreclosure can vote but where that voter can cast their ballot, and that question should be clearly answered by election officials” said Robert Brandon, president of the Fair Elections Legal Network in a statement to reporters. “State election officials have a duty to make sure voters have the information they need to cast a ballot and have it counted. They should be extra vigilant as Election Day nears to issue directives and educate the public and local election officials on how voters who lost their home can maintain their right to vote.”
As detailed in the report, over one million households were affected by foreclosures during the first six months of 2012. During that period, new foreclosures filings were 2 percent higher than the previous six months. The second quarter of 2012 saw a spike in the number of new foreclosure filings with a nine percent increase over the first quarter and six percent increase from the second quarter of 2011. We talk about the foreclosure crisis as though it is over, something that has already happened. But it’s not. It’s still here.
Foreclosure victims face hurdles to voting that include updating their address or re-registering to vote in a new jurisdiction with each move. This can be complicated and daunting. To start, the steps that need to be taken to either update an address or re-register are often determined by whether or not an individual has acquired a new residence and has done so before the state voter registration deadline. This can be fluid in a foreclosure proceeding. For example, a person in foreclosure who has lost their home could still have a legal “right of redemption,” a period of time in which they could repurchase their home and during which time they can vote from that address, but they may not know or understand that and that confusion can cost them their vote.
While each state handles voter registration and voting differently, there are a few commonalities. In each state, for example, one must reside or be deemed to have a residence in order to cast a ballot in that state. In some states, the law is straightforward. In California, the state most affected by foreclosures, a person can continue voting at the address of their foreclosed home until they establish a new residence in which they intend to remain. In other states, the correct polling place for a foreclosure victim can be more confusing.
The new wave of restrictive voter ID laws have only made this problem worse. For instance, in Florida, registered voters who have moved are no longer able to update their registration on Election Day and vote with a regular ballot if they move outside of the county in which they were originally registered.
The final injury in this hidden voting crisis is of course the fact that those most impacted by the foreclosure process are those who need the most representation in Congress. Wall Street made billions at the expense of the American middle class. Denying those individuals a right to participate in our democracy and to send representatives to Washington and their state legislatures that will look out for those interests and not the interests of bankers and securities traders is the only way real change happens.
Photo from taberandrew via flickr.