On ACORN

I’m a fan of ACORN, and have been for a long time. I gave to them after Hurricane Katrina, to help the New Orleans-based anti-poverty group rebuild itself and its city. I gave again last winter as I was making my end-of-year charitable donations.

I like them because they work hard for working Americans. I like them for standing up for sensible immigration policies that respect the needs of working people, regardless of their immigration status. I like them for the work they do on the Gulf Coast, an area sadly neglected by the people who are supposed to represent the area’s interests. And I like them because the register new voters from low-income communities, so that elected officials have to pay attention to the plight of the working poor.

ACORN is in the headlines lately over allegations of voter registration fraud. Unfortunately, that italicized word tends to get dropped as conservatives repeat their talking points, but it makes a huge difference. In many states, a person registering voters is legally obliged to turn in all registration forms, even if they believe the form to be invalid or illegitimate. Even when the form says “Mickey Mouse,” ACORN has to turn it in to the state officials. All they could do is set the forms which looked bogus aside in a special pile, and warn officials that those forms looked bogus. Which they did.

In a few states, officials seem to have ignored those warnings, and are now pursuing ACORN as if the group is responsible for the misinformation provided by jokers on the street or by dishonest employees, who were fired when their bad acts were identified.

Robert Greenwald has an excellent short video about the Republican plot to gin up a bogus narrative of fraudulent voting, but the pattern has been known for decades:

Conservative leader Paul Weyrich laid out the strategy back in 1980, saying:

They want everybody to vote! I don?t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people ? they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down.

Those efforts to reduce the number of votes cast is playing out again this year. The Nevada GOP is trying to get the Secretary of State to strike newly-registered early voters from the rolls, rather than letting them fix errors in their registration and cast a valid ballot. These are clearly not cases of fraud, but of a marking out of place on a hastily filled out form. And the GOP would rather block the person from voting for President. Shameful.

The American Prospect reported on the tendency to overinflate the importance of voter registration fraud, in the midst of the scandal over fired US Attorneys:

As a report authored this spring [of 2007] by Lorraine Minnite, a political science professor at Barnard College of Columbia University, for the voter-rights program Project Vote makes unmistakably clear, the government’s failure to prosecute or convict more than a handful of people for voter fraud isn’t for lack of trying. Since 2002, the Justice Department’s Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative has, as Gonzales put it, “made enforcement of election fraud and corruption offenses a top priority.” And yet between October 2002 and September 2005, just 38 cases were brought nationally, and of those, 14 ended in dismissals or acquittals, 11 in guilty pleas, and 13 in convictions. Though a Justice Department manual on election crime states that these cases “may present an easier means of obtaining convictions than do other forms of public corruption,” federal attorneys have failed to rack up those convictions, for the simple reason that incidents of fraud have been few and far between.

That story was relevant in 2007 because the DAs fired by Attorney General Gonzalez were fired for giving insufficient attention to these bogus charges of vote fraud. A report from the government’s Elections Assistance Commission found (before being edited by Republican appointees) “there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud.” The report also concluded that “Most people [of the experts inverviewed] believe false registration forms have not resulted in polling place fraud.”

Even so, 8 US Attorneys were fired for refusing to waste their resources pursuing investigations into non-existent fraud in the run-up to the 2006 elections. Such investigations generate few convictions, but can be used to political gain, delegitimizing the votes of working Americans. As ThinkProgress points out, this is a presidential election year ritual. John McCain is too dishonorable to break that tradition, and has in fact joined in it rather enthusiastically. We deserve better.

Comments

  1. #1 llewelly
    October 22, 2008

    Not coincidentally, a disproportionate number of newly registered voters are brown or black.

  2. #2 Michael
    October 23, 2008

    It’s pretty audacious to flatly claim that having few prosecutions means that fraudulent votes are “few and far between”. Our voting system has been designed to protect voter privacy, reduce the scope for intimidation, and increase convenience for voters; as a side effect, it intentionally does not collect evidence that would be key to showing vote fraud.

    For example, hundreds of votes in the 2004 Washington state gubernatorial race were cast by people registered as living at convenience stores, warehouses, and other places that state law does not permit as claimed residences for voting. (The margin of victory, after several recounts, ended up being 129.) There is no way to be sure whether those people were eligible to vote under the names listed, whether they were legitimate voters who were miscounted, or whether they were fraudulent votes — and the trial court that heard a case over the election refused to consider arguments over that question. However, when dozens of people are registered as living at the same convenience store, some organized malfeasance is afoot.

  3. #3 smrstrauss
    October 23, 2008

    Re: “hundreds of votes in the 2004 Washington state gubernatorial race were cast by people registered as living at convenience stores, warehouses, and other places that state law does not permit as claimed residences for voting. (The margin of victory, after several recounts, ended up being 129.)”

    I can understand why a judge would not want to investigate the vote.

    But your posting implies that because there were hundreds of votes that were fraudulent there should be a process that investigates the MILLIONS of voters who have already registered and the hundreds of thousands of new voters who register each election year in order to find those few hundreds of frauds.

    There would be no problem in doing this if the process were not used to throw out the votes of hundreds of thousands of valid voters.

    For example, I saw this posted recently:

    By jw on October 22, 2008 2:01 PM

    ACORN pales in comparison to the voter fraud supported by right wing nutjobs over the years. Look what the wingnuts did in Ohio 4 years ago. They purged the roles of �felons� using first and last name only(not birthdate or social security number). THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE who WERE NOT criminals but had the same first and last names of felons had their right to vote taken away when they showed up at the polls.

    And now right wing fringe wignuts are complaing abouyt �voter fraud�.

    Now, why do you suppose this happened? Was it simply a mistake? Or did one political party gain by having some thousands of people not able to vote?

    See: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/23638322/block_the_vote/print

    Which reads in part;

    Suppressing the vote has long been a cornerstone of the GOP’s electoral strategy. Shortly before the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Paul Weyrich � a principal architect of today’s Republican Party � scolded evangelicals who believed in democracy. “Many of our Christians have what I call the ‘goo goo’ syndrome � good government,” said Weyrich, who co-founded Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell. “They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. . . . As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

    Today, Weyrich’s vision has become a national reality. Since 2003, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, at least 2.7 million new voters have had their applications to register rejected. In addition, at least 1.6 million votes were never counted in the 2004 election � and the commission’s own data suggests that the real number could be twice as high. To purge registration rolls and discard ballots, partisan election officials used a wide range of pretexts, from “unreadability” to changes in a voter’s signature. And this year, thanks to new provisions of the Help America Vote Act, the number of discounted votes could surge even higher.

  4. #4 Joe Shelby
    October 23, 2008

    Michael – what is your response to this claim, http://www.horsesass.org/index.php?p=1167 , that the Republicans who challenged the registrations failed to follow the law (by not actually providing the real address) and actually doctored the legal form they were supposed to supply?

    And as for There is no way to be sure whether those people were eligible to vote under the names listed, whether they were legitimate voters who were miscounted, or whether they were fraudulent votes?

    There is also no way to know who they voted for, and the plaintiffs idea of “statistical analysis” was rejected by the court for being “not helpful” AND would have favored the Democratic Party winner anyways.

    “We think 500 votes are invalid and therefore you should take 500 votes away from our opponent” is hardly a legitimate or reasonable legal strategy.

  5. #5 Edward
    October 23, 2008

    CNN has an interview with a *former* ACORN worker who was convicted of fraud. Keeping in mind that this guy is one of the real bad guys, he complains about the “heavy” workload ACORN demanded of his office, or the office would shut down. That heavy workload his office couldn’t keep up with? It was 13-20 registrations a day!!!!! Frankly, if they couldn’t keep up with that, I think they were being lazy. I saw some people doing voter registrations at bus stops and such and they were probably doing that many in a hour, if not more. Here’s the CNN interview:

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/22/voter.fraud/index.html

    Also, its not clear from the story whether it is 13-20 for the whole office or per worker. Either way, it seems a fairly minimal number to me.

  6. #6 Oldfart
    October 23, 2008

    I am not particularly a lover of ACORN simply because it refuses to change it’s business model even though the same charges have been brought against it many times in the past. If you pay the homeless, drug addicts and felons to register voters by the number of voters they register, you are gonna get burned – over and over and over. And, no, I am NOT suggesting that ALL homeless, drug addicts and felons game the system but enough do to give you a bad bad name. So, what does a normal person do if he gets whacked upside the head a few times? He changes his behavior! But ACORN does not. SO I have little sympathy for them. That being said, they perform a function that no state that I know of is even attempting to perform: registering minorities and poor. As ACORN says, they are doing the work that Election Commissions ought to be doing and never do. And it is not ACORN’s job to verify every registration. That is the job of the Election Commissions. Which they are doing (1) very poorly because they are undermanned and under funded and (2) on a very partisan basis in many states, a situtation of which the Republicans take full advantage.

  7. #7 Oldfart
    October 23, 2008

    Ugh…………SITUATION! not situtation…….:(

  8. #8 Flex
    October 23, 2008

    Oldfart,

    It is my understanding that ACORN now pays by the hour, not by the number of registrations. See:

    http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/acorn_accusations.html

    So apparently they can learn. But there are still plenty of people who feel they can earn the $8/hr by filling in fraudulent names. For the most part they get caught by ACORN.

  9. #9 Josh Rosenau
    October 23, 2008

    Michael: I would only add that people register at bogus addresses for any of a number of reasons. People may have put down the address of the site they registered at, or they may be homeless and use the address of the building they sleep behind. Or they may simply not want to get mail from campaigns. I don’t know, you don’t know, and it’s inappropriate to assume that this is crimnal.