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Vote caging is a practice which is used to challenge the validity of voter registrations. While it is important to purge voter rolls of people who have moved or died, vote caging is often used specifically to target minorities, youths, and people with inadequate education who may not be aware of their voting rights. The legality of vote caging is debatable, with some people arguing that it is a clear case of discrimination which should be illegal, while others argue that it is, at times, defensible.
The term is taken from the direct mail industry, where “caging” is used to collect data about a mailing list. When material is caged, people at the direct mail company send out a mailing and then make notes about the response. People take note when mail is returned undeliverable, for example, to purge these names from the roll so that the company can save money the next time it wants to run a direct mail campaign.
In vote caging, registered letters are sent to the addresses on record for a select group of voters. If the letters are returned as undeliverable because the voters didn't sign for them or didn't receive notification about the letters, the returned letters are used to challenge voter registration addresses. The argument is that since a voter should be registering with his or her legal address, if a letter fails to go through to that address, it may indicative of voter fraud.
In some instances, an entire district will be caged, with all voters being included. More commonly, however, a list of voters to target is assembled, and many people agree that this is discrimination. For example, the list might include black voters, college students, soldiers, or low income people. Individuals in these groups are well known for being unfamiliar with their voting rights, and for using post office boxes as permanent mailing addresses, since they move around a lot. When these individuals arrive at the polls to vote, they may find their names struck from the record, or they may be asked to prove their registrations. This causes voters to cast provisional ballots, which are often not counted.
You may also hear vote caging referred to as vote suppression or voter discrimination. The Republican party in particular has been accused of vote caging on several occasions, with whistleblowers providing concrete evidence in the form of incriminating target lists. Many people would like to see a clear-cut ban on the practice, along with supportive regulatory action to enforce such a ban.