View Full Version : Files Show Talks On "Vote Caging"

07-08-2007, 03:22 PM
Files show talks on 'vote caging'
Discussions with elections chief were prior to '04 election


By J. Taylor Rushing, Capital Bureau Chief

TALLAHASSEE - Internal city memos show the issue of Republican "vote caging" efforts in Jacksonville's African-American neighborhoods was discussed in the weeks before the 2004 election, contradicting recent claims by former Duval County Republican leader Mike Hightower - the Bush-Cheney campaign's local chairman at the time.

"Caging" is a longtime voter suppression practice by which political parties collect undeliverable or unreturned mail and use it to develop "challenge lists" on Election Day.

The contradiction comes to light as the U.S. Justice Department continues to consider a June 18 request from two U.S. senators for an investigation into potential illegal voter suppression tactics in Duval County three years ago. A department spokeswoman said last week that the request is still being reviewed.

Hightower, in a Times-Union interview last month, said the controversial voter suppression tactic of "caging" was never raised in daily meetings hosted by former Duval County Supervisor of Elections Bill Scheu, and he had never heard "of that expression or that practice." Hightower said last week he stands by those recollections.

City officials have disputed that, saying Scheu's daily pre-election meetings with local Republicans, Democrats and African-American community leaders repeatedly included the topic. The city also released attendance records showing Hightower was present.

"This issue was raised during the 2004 election; the supervisor of elections and his counsel were aware of the allegations, discussed them at times during daily meetings with both political parties, and did not have any instances of challenges based on caging," Cindy Laquidara, chief deputy general counsel for Jacksonville, said in a June 20 e-mail to Duval County elections officials. The elections office was responding to a Times-Union public record request; the e-mail was obtained through a similar request.

Scheu told the Times-Union last week the caging issue "probably" came up during repeated discussions over vote challenges.

Hightower, however, stuck by his denial.

"I've never heard the phrase or the practice. I don't care what anybody says," he said. "That's their opinion. Mike Hightower doesn't remember that. Call it a senior moment."

"Vote caging" has a long history in politics. In one such procedure, a campaign will send out postcards to a particular group of addresses with instructions to return the mail. The campaign then creates a database of addresses that did not return the postcards and challenges the right of anyone registered at those addresses who attempts to vote on Election Day. The effect often dissuades turnout. The tactic is legal, but not if voters are targeted by race.

The 3-year-old allegation of caging in Jacksonville gained new life last month, when the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee received testimony indicating the GOP may have used the tactic in 2004.

Ann Farra, a former chairwoman of voter registration and education for the Duval County Democratic Party, said the fact no challenges occurred in 2004 is irrelevant, and Hightower was aware of the Bush-Cheney campaign tactics.

"This is like Bill Clinton saying he didn't have sex with Monica Lewinsky," Farra said. "Word had gotten out into the communities and caused people to stay away from the polls. Suppression was going on left and right."