Monday, October 20, 2008

Obama and ACORN

We know election day must be getting close when Republicans start screaming about voter fraud – just as they have in several previous elections. Study after study, and major nationwide enforcement efforts by the department of justice and other enforcement agencies in the states have never, ever produced any evidence of anything more than a handful of cases of actual voter fraud. The failure of many US attorneys to actually find cases of voter fraud to prosecute was the motivation for Karl Rove to push a scheme to fire nine of them and the resulting scandal ultimately led to attorney general Alberto Gonzalez's resignation.

The more accurate accusation would be voter-registration fraud, rather than the voter fraud accusation against Acorn by the Republicans. There appears to be plenty of checks in place to guarantee it doesn't turn into actual voter fraud. For voter fraud to occur, the organizers of such an effort would need hundreds if not thousands of people to participate in a massive conspiracy to show up at the polls claiming to be someone else (a felony) who had been fraudulently registered and placed on the rolls. In several states, they will need to have a government issue photo ID with that other person's information (another felony).

My research has shown Acorn to be mostly a good entity. Acorn’s goal is to register young, first-time voters and disenfranchised voters. Although some paid overeager, and some dishonest, field people working for Acorn may register cartoon characters, dead people, and so forth, to vote. It is unethical, but it does NOT becomes fraud unless a person tries to vote under one of the fictitious names, which rarely happens.

Acorn is uniquely susceptible to registration problems because it pays $8 per hour to the unemployed, including the homeless, to register people. It is too easy for those inclined to do so to go home and copy names out of phone books, etc. I can understand why they do this – to give unemployed or low-income people a paying job – but it opens Acorn up to fraud perpetuated against them since they end up paying for sham registrations. Acorn administrators believe that the multi-layered system of flagging questionable registration forms and then having the voting agencies provide further checks is adequate protection against actual fraudulent registrants ending up on the voter rolls. Voter registration fraud very rarely leads to actual voter fraud.

These attacks on voter registration drives are more rhetorical than physical, unlike several decades ago, but the point of contention is the same: the ability of Americans of color and college-age students to cast a ballot. Republican officials know that this election cycle has seen an unprecedented surge in new voter registrations and that those registrations have been disproportionably Democratic. So, to counter the huge number of Democrat registrants, Republican operatives have spread stories about Acorn turning in thousands of fraudulent registrations, but they know Acorn is required by law to turn them in – and they know that those registrants will never be added to the voter rolls.

Voter fraud and voter registration fraud are two different things, but are being deliberately combined for political purposes. Voter registration fraud is real, but the kinds of allegations about Acorn are not true. Here’s why: Organizations that engage in voter registration drives are required by law to submit every registration form that they receive, no matter how obviously fraudulent the information. That rule is in place as an extremely important protection for the process so that organizations are not able to go on a mass registration drive and then throw out all the Republican registrants or Democratic registrants before they submit the forms to the state government. Acorn, and all other voter drives, are required to flag the forms that they believe are invalid. So, if Acorn registers 100,000 people in Ohio out of which they identify 5,000 registration forms that are phony, they have to turn them in anyway with a cover sheet on each one that is suspect.

Acorn is trying to weed out these dishonest people, often turning them in for prosecution, so do not throw out the baby with the bath water! According to Bertha Lewis, Interim Chief Organizer of ACORN, the majority of the 1.3 million newly registered voters for this year are low- to-moderate income people, 60-70 percent are African American or Latino, and over half are under the age of 30. Lewis said the ultimate goal was to change the face of the electorate and permanently empower the Americans who are most affected by policy decisions.

The accusation that Obama is connected to Acorn appears to be an effort to tie Obama to potentially fraudulent voter registrations. It is a false accusation. Obama was never an Acorn community organizer. Acorn never hired Obama as a trainer, organizer, or any type of employee, although some Acorn employees did attend his training sessions on how to do voter registration. Acorn was not part of Project Vote in 1992 when Obama ran the successful voter registration drive.

The Wall Street Journal had this to say in 1992 about Project Vote: "Voting experts at the Democratic National Committee point to surging registration in several big cities, such as Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia. Most of that work has been done by the nonpartisan Project Vote, a voter participation organization based in Washington, D.C. Its director, Sandy Newman, says his group has helped to register 150,000 new voters, almost all of them black, in Pennsylvania; 110,000 in Chicago; 70,000 in Michigan; 40,000 in Ohio; and 160,000 (with the help of the New York Public Interest Research Group) in New York City. With the exception of New York, where Mr. Clinton holds a big lead, these are all battleground states, and most of these voters will cast their ballots for Mr. Clinton." [Wall Street Journal, 10/30/92]

In 1995, in his capacity as an attorney, Obama represented Acorn in a successful lawsuit ALONGSIDE the U.S. Department of Justice against the state of Illinois to force state compliance with a federal voting access law. Barnhill Attorneys Obama, Judson Miner, and Jeffrey Cummings were listed as Counsel for Acorn, with Obama listed as lead attorney, when the Illinois State Board Of Elections attempted to dismiss the U.S. District Court’s order in Acorn v. Edgar in November 1995. For his work in helping enforce the law, called “Motor Voter,” Obama received the IVI-IPO Legal Eagle Award in 1995. The payment to the Acorn affiliate was reported in campaign filings, although they had to be revised because of an error.

A more serious issue than voter registration fraud is the many battleground states that have broken federal law by purging their voter registration lists less than 90 days before an election. There is lots of evidence out there that "database matching" produces a lot of false negatives even when done legally, with people who are legitimate voters not getting "matched." This adversely affects low-income and black voters who move often. There is also an effort to keep college students from voting near campus. These legitimate voters, many newly registered, will show up at the polls only to be turned away. That is why, just last week, the US Supreme Court ruled against the Ohio GOP lawsuit that would have forced the Secretary of State to set aside all new registrations until they could be checked against the state driver’s license database. This could be fraught with problems such as if you recently moved, you would not be allowed to vote, or if you are a college student, your college address would not count. Students would have to travel back home to vote, an impossible situation for most.

My question is, why do we, as a free country, need voter registration? We should be able to show up with a driver’s license, or other state ID, which is matched to a state identification database and vote – no registration required. VOTING SHOULD BE A BIRTHRIGHT! But for this to work, of course, some states that give illegal immigrants a driver’s license would have to stop doing so.

McCain is perpetuating deceit that is damaging to our democracy because it calls into question the legitimacy of our election process. They are raising the specter of imaginary voter fraud to further their efforts to disqualify a large number of those registrations through cumbersome requirements that elections boards cannot complete by November 4 to fix a problem that does not exist.
McCain’s and the GOP’s deceit could present a real governing problem for Obama. Should Obama win, a large percentage of the country’s low-informed voters could think that he is a terrorist supporter who conspired to steal the election (a Manchurian Candidate).

And McCain claims to put country first. Yeah…right…