From NBC's Carrie Dann
Call it the quote that launched a thousand calls to a county Republican Party office in Detroit.
When a Michigan Web site quoted Macomb County Republican Party Chairman James Carabelli last week as saying that GOP officials "will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses," allegations of voter suppression spread like wildfire over the internet. The Obama team in Michigan seized on the remark, organizing a series of meetings to discuss the possible variant of address-based "vote caging," and - today - filing a lawsuit to block Republicans from using foreclosure listings to question voters on polling day.
The veracity of Carabelli's quote is unconfirmed, launching volleys of he-said-she-said accusations that culminated in a Republican counterpunch this afternoon, with State GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis threatening a libel lawsuit against the Michigan Messenger Web site that printed the original story.
Carabelli, along with Republican Party officials, said that the quote is absolutely fabricated. When the story broke, the Macomb chairman told First Read that Michigan Messenger writer Eartha Jane Melzer simply "printed what she wanted to print." On a conference call today, Michigan Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis called the story "patently false." (The Michigan Messenger, which describes its team as "coalition of long-time progressive bloggers, freelance writers and professional journalists," has stated that it stands by Melzer's reporting, and Melzer's editor has rejected the Michigan Republican Party's request that the Web site retract the story.)
Despite the controversy over the report's authenticity, the sentiment of the quote provides the crux of the new lawsuit filed in federal court this morning by Team Obama. Along with the DNC, the campaign is seeking an injunction that would prevent voters whose homes have been foreclosed from having their registration status challenged on Election Day.
University of Michigan law professor Ellen D. Katz says that the injunction -- if won -- would essentially address potential challenges well before Election Day, definitively settling the question of whether parties can pull voters out of line at polling places to question them based on the status of their home foreclosure. She says that Democrats "want to adjudicate it in advance, so that if on the day of the election, the Republican Party says, 'We think we understand the statute to say we are allowed to challenge people on this basis,' then the court would have already ruled."
State Republicans insisted today that such a court order is hardly necessary, because no such plan had ever -- or will ever -- exist. "There's nothing we can do. There's no program. There's no paperwork. There's no plan for any of this," said a frustrated Anuzis today on a conference call with reporters. "We can't be asked not to do something we're not going to do anyway."
Democrats say that they are unconvinced that such a scheme was never in the works, and Obama campaign officials worry that media coverage of the dust-up has already discouraged voters living in, or recently displaced from, foreclosed homes. "We haven't fallen off the back of the turnip truck here," said Obama general counsel Bob Bauer today. "This is a standard operating procedure in the Republican Party."
Anuzis responded that the Democrats' lawsuit is part of a strategic pattern of false charges of voter suppression, and that their legal action is intended to be a distraction that would "get people talking about race-baiting or any kind of concerns of voter intimidation."
"This is coming right out of their playbook," he said.