Monday, October 13, 2008

ACORN Rallies Its Troops

The Atlantic
Mark Ambinder

09 Oct 2008 07:04 pm

Republicans v ACORN has become a perennial early October antagonism, and tensions this year are particularly acute, with Republicans from the McCain campaign all the way down to House Republicans accusing the left-leaning community organizing group of a national conspiracy to flood secretaries of state with fraudulent voter registrations.

It's true, as Ben Smith notes, that Bugs Bunny and other imaginary voters can't imaginably show up at polling precincts and vote, but Republican complaints, to the extent that they are legitimate, are different. It's the rush of voter registrations at the end of the cycle, a rush which leaves election supervisors in the untenable position of having to very quickly decide whether applications are valid or not. Often, bad applications get through. Critics of ACORN wonder: why are fraudulent applications submitted in the first place? It's the system; you pay people to turn in as many voter registration cards as possible, you invite people who want more money to submit false forms. Critics also wonder: why aren't more people -- read the media -- covering this? After all, incidences of fraud are rampant, with official investigations launched in 12 states. Now -- "rampant" might not be the best adjective. Voter registration cards aren't the property of ACORN or any other group, and ACORN is required by law to turn in every completed form -- even if they're obviously fraudulent. ACORN insists it has procedures in place to flag these forms, but you can't blame supervisors of elections from throwing up their hands when they come in.

Even some Democratic groups are wary, not because they think ACORN's doing bad work, but because the sheer size of ACORN's operation lends itself to individuals who can easily game the system, and because the focus on ACORN increases the scrutiny of their own work. It's clear that there's extraordinary interest in this election, and huge amounts of new voters are entering the system, and, sorry Republicans, they're not...Republicans. These October protests seem like a logical place for conservative activists to hold and nurture their grievances about the political environment. Call it galling, for example, that ACORN's voter reg. projects are nominally non-partisan, when, in point of fact, the places they go and the things they do seem to help Democrats disproportionately. Galling, but conservative groups can set up voter reg. organizations like this if they want.

After the jump, read an internal memo from ACORN's directors, Bertha Lewis and Steve Kest, to its political allies, where the claim that ACORN has become a right-wing bogeyman is advanced.

Re: The Truth About ACORN's Voter Registration Drive

To: Interested Parties
From: Bertha Lewis and Steve Kest
Date: October 9, 2008
Re: The Truth About ACORN's Voter Registration Drive

Election Day is less than a month away, and our efforts to make sure that low-income and minority voters have a voice and vote on November 4th are in full swing. Unfortunately, just as we've seen in previous election cycles, the more success we have in empowering these voters, the more attacks we have to fend off from partisan forces making unfounded accusations to disparage our work and help maintain the status quo of an unbalanced electorate. We want to take this opportunity to separate the facts of our successes from the falsehoods of our attackers.

On Monday, October 6, as voter registration deadlines passed in most states, ACORN completed the largest, most successful nonpartisan voter registration drive in history. In partnership with the nonpartisan organization Project Vote, we helped register over 1.3 million low-income, minority, and young voters in a total of 21 states. Highlights of this success include:

We collected over 151,000 registrations in Florida, 153,000 in Pennsylvania, 215,000 in Michigan, and nearly 250,000 in Ohio.

An estimated 60-70 percent of our applicants are people of color.

At least HALF of all are registrations are from young people between 18-29.

We are proud of this unprecedented success, and grateful to everyone who supported us in this massive effort, from our funders and partners to the literally thousands of hardworking individuals across the country who dedicated themselves to the cause and conducted the difficult work of registering 1.3 million Americans, one voter at a time.

And this work is far from over: now begins our effort mobilize these new voters around local and national issues, getting them to the polls and helping to channel their commitment and conviction into an ongoing movement for change in our communities.

As The Nation pointed out recently, ACORN's success in registering millions of low-income and minority voters has made it "something of a right-wing bogeyman." Though ACORN believes that the right to vote is not, and should never be, a partisan issue, attacks from groups threatened by our historic success continue to come, motivated by partisan politics and often perpetuated by the media without full investigation of the facts. As a result, there have been a few recent stories about investigations of former ACORN workers for turning in incomplete, erroneous, or fraudulent voter registration applications. Predictably, partisan forces have tried to use these isolated incidents to incite fear of the "bogeyman" of "widespread voter fraud." But we want to take this opportunity to set the record straight and tell you a few facts to show how these incidents really exemplify everything that ACORN is doing right:

Fact: ACORN has implemented the most sophisticated quality-control system in the voter engagement field, but in almost every state we are required to turn in ALL completed applications, even the ones we know to be problematic.

Fact: ACORN flags incomplete, problem, or suspicious cards when we turn them in, but these warnings are often ignored by election officials. Often these same officials then come back weeks or months later and accuse us of deliberately turning in phony cards.

Fact: Our canvassers are paid by the hour, not by the card, so there is NO incentive for them to falsify cards. ACORN has a zero-tolerance policy for deliberately falsifying registrations, and in the relatively rare cases where our internal quality controls have identified this happening we have fired the workers involved and turned them in to election officials and law-enforcement.

Fact: No charges have ever been brought against ACORN itself. Convictions against individual former ACORN workers have been accomplished with our full cooperation, using the evidence obtained through our quality control and verification processes.

Fact: Voter fraud by individuals is extremely rare, and incredibly difficult. There has never been a single proven case of anyone, anywhere, casting an illegal vote as a result of a phony voter registration. Even if someone wanted to influence the election this way, it would not work.

Fact: Most election officials have recognized ACORN's good work and praised our quality control systems. Even in the cities where election officials have complained about ACORN, the applications in question represent less than 1% of the thousands and thousands of registrations ACORN has collected.

Fact: Our accusers not only fail to provide any evidence, they fail to suggest a motive: there is virtually no chance anyone would be able to vote fraudulently, so there is no reason to deliberately submit phony registrations. ACORN is committed to ensuring that the greatest possible numbers of people are registered and allowed to vote, so there is also NO incentive to "disrupt the system" with phony cards.

Fact: Similar accusations were made, and attacks launched, against ACORN and other voter registration organizations in 2004 and 2006. These attacks were not only groundless, they have since been exposed as part of the U.S. Attorneygate scandal and revealed to be part of a systematic partisan agenda of voter suppression.

These are the facts, and the truth is that a relatively small group of political operatives are trying to orchestrate hysteria about "voter fraud" and manufacture public outrage that they can use to further suppress the votes of millions of low-income and minority Americans.

These tactics are nothing new, and history has shown that they will come to nothing. We'll continue to weather the storm, as we've done for years, and we'll continue to share the truth about our work and express pride about our accomplishments.
Most importantly, we want to assure you that this good work continues, unabated and undeterred. ACORN will not be intimidated, we will not be provoked, and in this important moment in history we will not allow anyone to distract us from these vital efforts to empower our constituencies and our communities to speak for themselves. If the partisan political machines are afraid of low-income and minority voters, they're going to have to do a lot better than coming after ACORN.

After all, there are now at least 1.3 million more of them, and they will not be silenced. They're taking an interest, and taking a stand, and they'll be taking their concerns to the voting booth in November.

And ACORN will be here, to make sure that the voices of these Americans are heard, on Election Day and for every day to come.

Re: TPM Muckracker | A Dose of Reality on the ACORN Hysteria

It's worth taking a moment to step back from the slew of charges leveled over the last week at ACORN, the community-organizing group that Republicans and the McCain campaign have been trying to turn into a bogeyman for fears about vote fraud (and, of course, tie to Barack Obama).

The GOP has accused ACORN of submitting fraudulent voter registration forms numbering in the hundreds or thousands, in battleground states including Ohio, Indiana, Nevada, and Missouri.

But the most important point that's getting lost in the Fox-generated hysteria is that, according to voting experts, even when fraudulent voter registration forms are submitted, they virtually never lead to fraudulent votes being cast. Richard Hasen, a law professor at Loyola and an authority on voting law, wrote in a 2007 op-ed published last year in the Dallas Morning News and noted recently by TPM, that "the idea of massive polling-place fraud (through the use of inflated voter rolls) is inherently incredible," because of the sheer logistical challenges it would require to carry out on a large scale.

In many states, ACORN is required by law to turn in all the forms it collects, though the law differs from state to law, according to experts.

ACORN has consistently said that it flags suspicious forms for election officials. Indeed, in Nevada where last week an ACORN office was raided in an investigation headed by the Secretary of State, ACORN was already cooperating with authorities.

According to a statement from the group which has not been disputed by state officials, in July, ACORN set up a meeting with county elections officials and the Secretary of State's office to urge them to take action on information ACORN had provided. Since then, "ACORN has provided officials with copies and--in some cases--second copies of many of the personnel records and the 'problem card packages' and cover sheets with which we originally identified the problem cards."

It's also worth noting that similar allegations were made against ACORN in the last few election cycles, and several investigations were conducted, none of which found evidence of widespread voter fraud. Many of these were conducted by US attorneys, who were pressured by GOP political figures to investigate the issue, then fired after they failed to come up with sufficient evidence.

So as the GOP campaign to make an issue out of ACORN continues -- and we'll be keeping you posted as it does -- remember that the number of fraudulent votes that will be cast in November as a result of the group's voter-registration activities is close to zero. But the number of valid voters who could potentially have obstacles placed in their way of voting, as a result of the Republican campaign, is far larger.

Re: TPM Muckracker | Indiana and Ohio Spar Locally with ACORN

By Kate Klonick - October 13, 2008, 4:02PM

As the Republican furor over ACORN and voter fraud continues to heat up nationally, there are two local developments in Democratic counties in swing states that are worth noting.

In Indiana, where there have already been squabbles in heavily Democratic Lake County over early voting, the secretary of state has now asked the state attorney general and federal prosecutors to investigate ACORN for voter fraud.

Secretary of State Todd Rokita wrote a letter to fellow Republican, AG Steve Carter on Friday, stating that he had received "secured credible evidence" of voter fraud perpetuated by ACORN, the AP reports.

"There looks to be some felonious actions taken here," Rokita said to reporters. "I think the message to the voters and taxpayers of this state is that we're watching, and we're not going to tolerate the kind of behavior in the state."

ACORN responded on Friday saying that they themselves had "identified approximately 2,100 cards in Lake County that we believe were problematic."

"We are the victim here because we have identified the problem, and now certain interests are turning that information against us," Brian Kettenring, a spokesman for ACORN said.

And Lake County isn't the only Democratic stronghold in a swing state to be dogged by voter fraud accusations. The bipartisan Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, a county which contains Cleveland, held hearings today and voted unanimously to ask the county prosecutor to investigate multiple registrations of individuals registered by ACORN, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

Four people were subpoenaed in front of the board this morning, testifying that they had been asked to register multiple times by ACORN solicitors.

Katy Gall, the ACORN director for Ohio, said that they had cooperated with the investigation and would terminate the employment of anyone found soliciting multiple registrations.

No charges have been filed against ACORN in either state and in Indiana, the attorney general has yet to respond to Rokita's request Friday for an investigation.

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