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.