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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Foreclosures Crisis' Effect on the Election Could Be Deeper Than Just Policy Debate

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 3:02 PM

No place to live and now no place to vote
  • No place to live and now no place to vote

The 2012 general election will be the first since the national rate of mortgage delinquencies rose above 10 percent. While it seems the fever broke in early 2010, when nearly 15 percent of home loans were past due, the country's foreclosure rate is still twice as high as it was pre-recession.

And foreclosures mean mental stress and physical moving -- two factors that tend to lower voter turnout.

See also: The Dispossessed: Bayview Homeowners Fight Foreclosures

More Foreclosures in a Community Means Lower Voter Turnout, Says Study

Here's What the State's Historic Foreclosure Protection Bill Means to Homeowners

This connection is pretty intuitive: Homeowners who get pushed out of their houses and into another district, city, county, or state will have to re-register to vote once they've established a new permanent residency. This process becomes complicated if the person has not yet landed in a permanent residence by the time registration deadline rolls around -- especially if that person lives in a state that requires valid ID (with a current address) to get into the voting booth.

As the Fair Elections Legal Network explained in a recent report, "Lose Your Home, Keep Your Vote":

Voters who have been forced out of their foreclosed home can have difficulty documenting their residency if they need to update or change their registration on or before Election Day. If the voter has no stable new residence -- for example, if he or she has been staying with relatives or friends -- it may be difficult to obtain the types of official documents with the voter's name and current address that are necessary to re-register at the address of the temporary housing.

Californians have it a bit easier than those in some other parts of the country. Here, as well as in 17 other states, foreclosed-upon folks are allowed to use their former home's address until they find a permanent abode. This is especially key considering more than 3 percent of housing units in California were in foreclosure in 2011, the third-highest rate in the nation. The Golden State's voter registration deadline is Oct. 22.

The foreclosure crisis' full effect on voting patterns remains unclear -- there haven't been many elections to study. But bits of information are starting to emerge. About a month ago, for instance, researchers at UC Riverside released a study that found that residents of neighborhoods with high foreclosure rates are less likely to vote -- possibly due to community instability and the anxiety over paying the mortgage on a house with a free-falling market value.

Foreclosures' impact on voting, of course, would disproportionately affect minorities, who have been hit harder by the crisis. A 2010 study by the Center for Responsible lending concluded that Latinos and black people were 70 percent more likely than white people to lose their homes to foreclose.

In an election where minority voter turnout could determine the outcome in certain key states -- Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, Florida-- the role of the foreclosure crisis may go deeper than just policy debate.

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Albert Samaha

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