Originally Published: 10/17/2008
VOTER REGISTRATION DRIVE
OR VOTER FRAUD?
By The Issue Wonk
What’s with all the hoopla about ACORN? I’ve listened to all the spin, read all the stuff, and decided that you needed to know the facts. So, here ya go.
ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) is a community organization dedicated to helping low- and moderate-income people. Since 2004 it has run massive voter registration drives dedicated to getting low- and moderate-income people to become involved in the political process of the United States. They claim to have signed up 1.3 million poor and working-class (read: minority) voters in 18 states this year.1
The recent controversy swirls around the GOP’s accusations that ACORN has been submitting fraudulent voter registrations. In Cleveland, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections has asked the county prosecutor to investigate the multiple registrations by 4 people gathered by ACORN, one of which was a new voter by the name of Freddie Johnson. He supposedly registered 73 times over a 5-month period in return for cigarettes and cash from ACORN workers.1 In Nevada, state investigators raided ACORN’s Las Vegas headquarters and seized documents and computer data looking for fabricated registration forms.1 At the request of the GOP, the FBI has opened a preliminary investigation into 1400 potentially fraudulent registrations in Albuquerque, NM.2 Examples go on and on. The GOP even has a special page devoted to all the articles and accusations being leveled against ACORN. And Republican presidential candidate John McCain is calling for an inquiry.3 But, let me remind you that 9 U.S. attorneys were fired because they would not or could not find any voter fraud against Democrats to pursue.4,5
The allegations against ACORN aren’t new. In 2004 a former Florida ACORN employee filed a lawsuit accusing them of removing Republican registration cards and paying workers for each card collected.6 After the election the suit was dismissed for lack of evidence and a judge upheld ACORN’s countercharge of libel.7
In a nutshell, ACORN is being accused of gathering fraudulent voter registrations. Are they doing this and, if so, is it deliberate? If it is, will those fraudulent registrations result in fraudulent voters?
Voter Registration Drives
Gathering Registrations. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (42 USC Chapter 20) (NVRA) is meant to prevent obstacles to voter registration. No one can stop anyone from registering. However, each state has an election official (or several) and it is that person’s job to verify that the registrant is qualified to vote. Therefore, any registration gathered by ACORN, or any other person or group gathering registrations, must, by law, be turned in to the state official in charge of verifying registrations. If a person walked up to an ACORN worker and claimed to be Elvis Presley, made up a Social Security number, and checked off all the boxes attesting that he was a United States Citizen, etc., the gathering organization is required to submit that registration – even if it knows it is fraudulent.
Verifying Registrations. The responsibility for verifying voter registrations lies with the state-appointed elections officials. Those gathering registrations are not, and by law cannot, verify the authenticity of registrations. However, ACORN, knowing they were collecting a lot of registrations that would put a burden on elections officials and having had problems with bad registrations in the past (see below), attempted to verify the registrations that they gathered. Those that were incomplete or questionable in some way, they “flagged.” Most, if not all, of the examples of so-called voter fraud that the GOP has complained about were brought to light by ACORN. However, as stated above, they are required to turn them in anyway.8 These flagged registrations are the ones the GOP is pointing to in horror.
ACORN directors Bertha Lewis and Steve Kest, have released the following statement:9
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.
The Canvassers: All organizations are different, but ACORN’s canvassers are paid by the hour, not by the number of registrations they obtain. When ACORN identifies canvassers who deliberately falsify registrations they are not only fired, but are also turned into election officials and law enforcement for prosecution. ACORN has never been charged with voter fraud, but successful convictions against ACORN workers have been accomplished with the aid of ACORN.9 Indeed, King County (WA) Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg released the following:10
Today I am announcing the filing of criminal charges against 7 defendants for submitting over 1,700 fraudulent voter registration forms to King County Elections Department in October of 2006.
While the actions of these individuals are extremely serious, I want to begin by assuring the public that no one has voted under these false registrations in any election.
Indeed, a joint federal and state investigation has determined that this scheme was not intended to permit illegal voting.
Instead, the defendants cheated their employer, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (or ACORN), to get paid for work they did not actually perform. ACORN’s lax oversight of their own voter registration drive permitted this to happen. [Emphasis added.]
What happens to those fraudulent registrations that ACORN, or other groups, don’t catch? What happens if the election officials don’t catch them? These fraudulent registrants are now eligible to vote. Can it throw an election? The answer is absolutely “No.” It has been demonstrated over and over again that voter fraud is almost non-existent.11
Lorraine Minnite of Barnard College, who studies voter fraud, said that “between 2002 and 2005 only 1 person was found guilty of registration fraud. 20 others were found guilty of voting while ineligible and 5 were guilty of voting more than once. That’s 26 criminal voters.”12 Only 26? And U.S. attorneys were fired because they couldn’t find any cases to prosecute? Even Republican campaign consultant Royal Masset said that “in-person voter fraud is nonexistent. It doesn’t happen, and . . . makes no sense because who’s going to take the risk of going to jail on something so blatant that maybe changes 1 vote?”13
Look at how it works. Take the above example of the person saying he is Elvis Presley. In almost all states he would have to, at some point, show identification. He’ll either have to apply in person to get a mail-in ballot, at which time he’ll show his ID, or he’ll go to the polls and will have to show his ID. So, unless he has a driver’s license in the name of Elvis Presley, he won’t be able to vote. And he’s risking a felony conviction for voter fraud. You think anyone is going to do this to cast 1 vote for their candidate? If Freddie Johnson, the guy who allegedly registered 73 times, shows up, and he’s eligible to vote, he’ll be able to vote – but only once. The systems are in place and people can register to vote millions of times but will only be able to vote once, if they are able to vote at all.
Why All the Charges?
Since all the accusations have been going on for quite some time, it seems apparent that the primary purpose is to hobble ACORN’s get-out-the-vote efforts. However, all the hoopla by the GOP may be a set-up for charges of voter fraud if Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wins the election. According to Nather:14
[F]ormer Sens. John Danforth and Warren Rudman, the co-chairs of McCain’s “Honest and Open Election Committee,” raised the possibility that the ACORN controversy could lead to legal challenges if Republicans suspect the group’s efforts have led to invalid votes being cast on election day.
It’s always possible, of course, that a lopsided victory would bring the election to a fast and decisive end. But if it’s close at all, especially in the battleground states, the stage is now set for post-election challenges that could get ugly very quickly.
Also, pointing to voter fraud is a good distraction from the very real concerns about tens of thousands of voters being illegally purged from the voter rolls in many states.15,16 (See also Voting in the 2008 Election) Remember that the Brennan Center reported recently, “[E]lection officials across the country are routinely striking millions of voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation.”17 Also, there is now a U.S. Supreme Court appeal of an Ohio case in which 200,000 new voters could be thrown off the rolls because, through no fault of their own, their names don’t match error-riddled databases.18 And in Philadelphia, fliers have been put out in minority neighborhoods warning residents that undercover cops will be hanging around the polls on election day, arresting anyone with “outstanding arrest warrants or who have unpaid traffic tickets.”19
Raising the specter that there is massive vote-stealing going on (especially by poor and minority Democrats) encourages us to accept greater requirements that are increasingly more draconian. It encourages polling-place intimidation tactics – like the cross burning in Louisiana in 200620 and the hiring of intimidating partisan “poll watchers” at inner-city polling places.21
So the GOP’s complaints are meant to restrict voter registration, distract us from the real voter suppression going on, and set us up for a potential challenge to the election. Anyone surprised? Suppression of votes has long been a Republican strategy for winning elections.22
1 Associated Press. Ohio County Seeks Fraud Investigation of ACORN. Boston Herald, October 13, 2008.
2 Perez, Evan. GOP Renews Complaints Over Voter Registrations. Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2008.
3 Drogin, Bob & Savage, David. McCain Calls for ‘Voter Fraud’ Inquiry. Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2008.
4 Goldstein, Amy. Justice Dept. Recognized Prosecutor’s Work on Election Fraud Before His Firing. Washington Post, March 19, 2007.
5 Gisick, Michael. Rove Played Role in Iglesias Dismissal. The Albuquerque Tribune, March 12, 2007.
6 Morgan, Lucy. Group Faces Accusations of Broken Voting Laws. St. Petersburg Times, October 24, 2004.
7 James, Joni. Voter Fraud Charges Collapse. St. Petersburg Times, December 15, 2005.
8 Friedman, Brad. The Republican Voter Fraud Hoax. The Guardian, October 13, 2008.
9 Ambinder, Marc. ACORN Rallies Its Troops. The Atlantic, October 9, 2008.
10 Satterberg, Daniel T. Statement of Interim King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. King County Prosecutor’s Office, July 26, 2007.
11 Lipton, Eric & Urbina, Ian. In a 5-Year Effort, Scant Evidence of Voter Fraud. The New York Times, April 12, 2007.
12 Burmon, Andrew. Behind the GOP’s Voter Fraud Hysteria. Salon, October 15, 2008.
13 Totenberg, Nina. Supreme Court Weighs Voter ID Requirements. NPR, January 9, 2008.
14 Nather, David. Where the ACORN Dispute is Heading. Congressional Quarterly, October 14, 2008.
15 Urbina, Ian. States’ Actions to Block Voters Appears Illegal. The New York Times, October 8, 2008.
16 Malbran, Pia. Red Flag on Purging Voter Rolls. CBS Evening News, September 30, 2008.
17 Press Release. Study Finds States Purging Millions of Voters in Secret, Often Erroneously. Brennan Center for Justice, October 1, 2008.
18 Urbina, Ian. Ruling May Impede Thousands of Ohio Voters. The New York Times, October 15, 2008.
19 Lucey, Catherine. Vote-Scam Fliers Target Black Neighborhoods. Philadelphia Daily News, October 2, 2008.
20 Clarke, Kristen. Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Oversight Hearing on Voter Suppression. February 26, 2008. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
21 Flaherty, Mary Pat. A Wis. Call for GOP Poll Watchers Draws National Notice. Washington Post, October 14, 2008.
22 Weyrich, Paul. Goo-Goo Syndrome. Lone Star Bear. (See video at You Tube)
© The Issue Wonk, 2008