Wednesday, October 15, 2008
WASHINGTON, DC -- In a press conference at the National Press Club yesterday, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) held a nationally televised press conference to discuss their successful nonpartisan voter registration drive, which helped register over 1.3 million low-income, minority, and young Americans this election year, and to respond to partisan allegations of "voter registration fraud" centering around a relatively small number of faulty or falsified registration applications collected in the nationwide effort. Representatives of ACORN were joined by leaders from the voting rights groups Common Cause and Demos, as well as by actual voters to testify to the importance of voter registration.
Kevin Whelan of ACORN called the allegations of fraud "distorted" while the Reverend Gloria Swierenga, chair of Maryland ACORN, said they were part of an "unfortunate season of mudslinging" that was drawing attention away from the extraordinary success of bringing new voters into the process this year.
"There can be errors in the process, we freely admit that" said Swierenga. "But we are fiercely patriotic. The voter franchise was bought in blood," she said, referring to slain civil rights workers in the 60's who "died so I could vote."
Whelan explained the logistics of the massive nonpartisan voter registration operation and its quality control protocols. Whelan said that over 13,000 part-time canvassers worked to collect over 1.3 million registrations in 21 states across the country. "The vast majority were dedicated workers who did a great job, who worked in the hot sun, who worked in the rain, and who did something remarkable in bringing in all these new voters," Whelan said. Separate quality control staff reviewed each and every card, and made three attempts to call every registrant and confirm the validity of the application and the registration.
Where there were problems or doubt about registration applications, Whelan said, ACORN flagged these cards for election officials. Out of 13,000 workers, Whelan said, there are inevitably a few who decide to pad their hours and get out of this difficult work by making up names or turning in duplicate cards. In the "handful of cases" where this occurred, ACORN fired the worker involved, alerted election officials to the problem, and turned information about the canvasser over to the authorities to encourage investigation and prosecution.
Registration applications that ACORN itself identified to election officials as faulty or fraudulent have been used to attack the organization, but Whelan explained that "by state laws and good legal advice, we are required to turn all of those cards in.Ԡ
Miles Rapoport, President of Demos and former Connecticut Secretary of State, confirmed this. "As a former election official, I can tell you that I would not want organizations to decide which registrations they are going to turn in and which they are not," Rapoport said. He said he sees ACORN's quality-control procedures as "an indication that there is no attempt by the organization to defraud the election process. There is an attempt to make sure that valid registrations get in and that invalid registrations are identified."
Rapoport also said studies by Demos and other groups document that the actual incidence of voters voting under a false name, or attempting to register multiple times to defraud the system, was "minimal verging on nonexistent," and that using "voter fraud" to attack voter registration drives or set up draconian voter-identification provisions was "a serious disservice to our democracy." Whelan also confirmed that workers who turn in falsified or duplicate applications are defrauding their employerACORNbut that "they are not creating one extra voter The fraudulent votes that result from that are zero.Ԡ
Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause, pointed out that the current system of registration in the United Stateswhich puts the responsibility on the individual, not on the stateis itself an obstacle to participation, and that the burden is on ACORN and other community groups to bring people into the process. "Registration was put into place by white males who didn't want women and people of color to vote," Edgar said. "I'd like to see every infant born in the United States, and every new immigrant who is brought into the nation, automatically registered to vote."
"It shouldn't be up to community organizations to go out and fill out these registrations by hand," said Whelan, who spoke of the need to enforce the provisions of the National Voter Registration Act which require state agencies to offer voter registration services. Together with Demos and Project Vote, ACORN successfully sued this year in Missouri for better enforcement of NVRA; in the first month that the ruling went into effect, Whelan said, 12,000 additional people were registered in the state.
The ACORN press conference today closely followed another conference across the hall, where former senators John Danforth and Warren Rudman of the McCain-Palin campaign once again raised concerns about ACORN's voter registration work. "We tried to get into the press conference so we could hear the allegations first hand," said Steve Kest, Executive Director of ACORN, "but even though we were the subject of the conference, they wouldn't let us in." Kest said he knew the former senators to be "honorable men", and that ACORN was sending letters inviting them to meet and learn about ACORN's program. "We hope they'll end up applauding the work we've been doing to bring Americans into the voting process."
The partisan attacks, according to ACORN, are nothing new. "All of this has happened before," Whelan said, referring to previous attacks and investigations of ACORN that not only turned out to be politically motivated, but also turned up nothing. Whelan mentioned specifically the New Mexico investigation led by U.S. Attorney David Iglesias in 2004, which turned out later to have been part of the Attorneygate scandal; Iglesias has said he was fired for failing to bring trumped-up charges against ACORN.
The attacks from the McCain campaign were surprising on another front, Kest said, since McCain stood shoulder-to-shoulder with ACORN as the featured speaker at an event in 2006. "We assumed he was a friend, until he decided he wasn't," said Kest.
The speakers all agreed that it was unfortunate that the allegations were being allowed to distract from the real story: the extraordinary enthusiasm and interest of new voters this election cycle. "We have an opportunity this year," said Rapoport. "People by the hundreds of thousands and millions are anxious and eager to register to vote and be part of it. I think the criticism of ACORN is a diversionary issue that should not be allowed to cloud what is happening this year, which is an extraordinary flowering of democracy. ACORN is to be applauded for encouraging that, not criticized, and I am proud to stand with them."
One of the millions of new voters this year is Enrique Peralta who was sworn in as a new citizen on September 25 and registered to vote the day after in Fairfax County. Peralta said he is looking forward to voting, takes the responsibility very seriously, and is looking forward to holding his elected officials accountable.
Asked whether, as a new voter, he himself was concerned about voter fraud, Peralta said "I am mainly concerned that everyone who has the right to vote is allowed to.
Good piece on Salon about perennial Republican "voter fraud" game-playing: Warnings about voter fraud prior to a U.S. presidential election are nothing new. But to listen to conservative Republicans lately, you might expect Nov. 4 to bring a voting catastrophe of epic proportions. Writing in the New York Post in early October, Ken Blackwell -- yes, the former Ohio secretary of state of 2004 election infamy -- warned about "the kind of chaos you expect from a category-five hurricane -- with radical groups sending the nation into a protracted legal battle even worse than the mess back in 2000." "To prevent it," Blackwell urged, "we must act now." Many Republicans, including operatives from the McCain campaign, have indeed been raising the specter of voter fraud across battleground states, from Nevada to Michigan to Pennsylvania, and pushing for action by government authorities. But according to Lori Minnite, a professor of political science at Barnard College, who has spent the last eight years studying the role of fraud in U.S. elections, the Republican crusade against voter fraud is a strategic ruse. Rather than protecting the election process from voter fraud -- a problem that barely exists -- Minnite says the true aim of Republican efforts appears to be voter suppression across the partisan divide. According to Minnite, investigating voter fraud has become a Republican cottage industry over the last 20 years because it justifies questioning the eligibility of thousands of would-be voters -- often targeting poor and minority citizens in urban areas that lean Democratic. Playing the role of vigilant watchdog gives GOP bureaucrats a pretext for obstructing the path of marginalized and first-time voters headed for the polls. Read the whole thing ...
I Love ACORN. I'm a paying member here in Jackson. The organization truly represents American ideals at their best. Not only does ACORN take on increasing voter registration, but also preditory home loans, working out bad home loans to keep people in their homes, providing free tax preparation, taking on check cashing/ pay day loan scams, increasing the minimum wage, and more. Every Jacksonian should look into becoming a member. As far a voter fraud: a real case of voter fraud was reported on TomPain.com via ipsnes.net at http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=44266: DETROIT, Michigan, Oct 14 (IPS) - A federal judge ruled Monday that the current practices to purge the voter rolls in Michigan are illegal and ordered Republican Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land to immediately stop the cancellation of registered voters whose voter identification cards are returned as undeliverable in the mail. The purging of registered voters, many of whom lost their homes to bank foreclosure, in the state of Michigan prompted the federal lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), United States Student Association Foundation and the Advancement Project, and resulted in calls in Congress for a Justice Department investigation.
I admire ACORN, too. They do the Lord's work, you could say, of helping the poor and overlooked. Republicans have reached a new low in trying to use them to hurt Obama and to deflect from attempts to keep paper out of the polling booth. Execrable. (By the way, I took that word back from a neo-con wingnut.)