The ACORN “election fraud” story is one of those urban legends, like fake moon landings and alligators in the sewers, and it appears three or four weeks before every recent national election with the regularity of the swallows returning to Capistrano.
As soon as I can get the alligator that crawled out of my toilet back into the New York City sewers where it belongs, I can turn my attention to ACORN.
You see, the ACORN “election fraud” story is one of those urban legends, like fake moon landings and alligators in the sewers, and it appears three or four weeks before every recent national election with the regularity of the swallows returning to Capistrano. First, the basics: ACORN, which stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is an activist group working with low- and moderate-income families that, among many other things, registers voters. To do this they hire people to go around signing up the unregistered.
What happens is that some of those hired to do the registering, who are paid by the name, make people up. As a result, you’ll discover that among the registrants are such obvious fakes as Mickey Mouse and the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys.
The charge is that these fake registrations will create havoc at the polls. Former Republican Senators John Danforth and Warren Rudman, chairs of Sen. John McCain’s Honest and Open Elections Committee, held a press conference and described the results of the bad seeds in ACORN’s registration program as “a potential nightmare.”
John McCain raised it at the final debate and went further, adding, “We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama's relationship with ACORN, who [sic] is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy. …”
Barack Obama replied, “Had nothing to do with us. We were not involved.”
Which is not to say Obama has not been associated with ACORN in the recent past. He has. But all of this distracts from several important points. ACORN has registered 1.3 million voters and maintains that in virtually every instance they are the ones who have reported the incidents of fraud.
As the organization asserted in a response to Sen. McCain, “ACORN hired 13,000 field workers to register people to vote. In any endeavor of this size, some people will engage in inappropriate conduct. ACORN has a zero-tolerance policy and terminated any field workers caught engaging in questionable activity. At the end of the day, as ACORN is paying these people to register voters, it is ACORN that is defrauded.”
Arrests have been made, as well they should be.
Add to this the simple fact that registration fraud is not election fraud. Seventy-five made-up people who are registered as, say, “Brad Pitt,” are not likely going to show up at some polling place on Nov. 4 to vote in the election. Because they don’t exist. Not that this has stopped the GOP from banging the same drum every national election. And amnesiac members of the media and some government agencies from buying into it every time.
Which raises the ongoing investigation of the Justice Department’s firing of those eight U.S. attorneys shortly after President Bush’s re-election. It shouldn’t be forgotten that despite official explanations, half of them were let go after refusing to prosecute vote fraud charges demanded by Republicans. The attorneys had determined there was little or no evidence of skullduggery; certainly not enough to prosecute.
(In an interview with Talking Points Memo, one of those fired, David Iglesias, reacted to reports that the FBI has launched an investigation of ACORN: "I'm astounded that this issue is being trotted out again. Based on what I saw in 2004 and 2006, it's a scare tactic.")
What’s equally if not more scary are continued allegations of Republican attempts at “caging” minority voters – making challenge lists of African- and Hispanic-Americans registered in heavily Democratic districts.
They come on the heels of a recent report from the Brennan Center at New York University documenting how state officials -- often with the best of intentions -- purge huge numbers of perfectly legal voters from the rolls.
As my colleague Bill Moyers reported, “Hundreds of thousands of legal voters may have been dumped in recent years, many without ever being notified.”
Hardly reassuring words if you want democracy to work, and sadly, not an urban legend, but the simple truth.
Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.