Politics & Policy

Community-Organizer-in-Chief

The ACORN vote.

Washington, D.C. — Former Republican Senators John C. Danforth and Warren Rudman, who chair the McCain campaign’s Honest and Open Elections Committee, held a press conference in Washington Tuesday. According to Danforth and Rudman, widespread voter fraud could result in a “potential nightmare” at the polls this November.

Nearly all of the concern over voter fraud has focused on one group, the Association Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN), which is under investigation or facing serious allegations of fraud in 13 states over how it has conducted voter-registration drives. ACORN insists, incredibly, that its voter-registration drives are nonpartisan activities. However, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has endorsed the group’s activities in the past and taught at their seminars. His campaign has paid them $800,000 for get-out-the-vote efforts, and ACORN’s political action committee has endorsed Obama.

#ad#The McCain campaign’s concern that ACORN may be engaging in illegal tactics to help Obama can hardly be called unfounded. NRO contributors Stanley Kurtz, Michelle Malkin, Deroy Murdock have provided a wealth of evidence on the organization’s troubling activities. However, given the barrage of negative publicity, ACORN is fighting back. In fact, they scheduled their own press conference at the National Press Club, immediately following the Danforth-Rudman press conference.

“We tried to get into the press conference to hear the allegations firsthand and, though we were the subject of the conference, we weren’t allowed in. We extended an invitation to them to come to our press conference, however,” ACORN executive director Steve Kess sniffed.

For their part, ACORN insists they have a rigorous quality-control process to prevent and weed out fraud. Their inability to provide basic information about their ongoing efforts would suggest otherwise. Had they been let into the earlier press conference, it’s hard to imagine how they would have responded to the McCain campaign allegations of voter fraud — given how their spokesman Kevin Whelan’s answered these questions from the press:

Out of the 13,000 workers responsible for collecting voter registrations how many have you fired for fraudulent activity? “It’s a good question, I don’t have the number but I can try to find out,” Whelan said.

Out of the 1.3 million voters registered by ACORN, is there any guess at how many are “Mickey Mouse” or duplicate registrations? “It probably won’t be after the election that we can tell you.”

Because state law requires you to submit every registration you collect, what percentage of the total voter registrations submitted does ACORN actually flag as being problematic before you send them in? “I want to not give a number that I can’t back up.”

Without offering evidence to back up their claim, ACORN insists that the number of voter registrations they collect that turn out to be fraudulent is only a “tiny fraction.” The press release announcing their press conference claims fraudulent voting “happens less often in the U.S. than death by lightning.” A memo made available to the press at the conference reads, “Fact: There has never been a single proven case of anyone, anywhere casting an illegal vote as a result of phony voter registration.” Whelan also echoed these sentiments in person.

But you’d have to be naïve in the extreme, and know very little about voter fraud, in order to believe them. The same morning as ACORN’s press conference, the New York Post reported that “Investigators probing ACORN have learned that an Ohio man registered to vote several times and cast a bogus ballot with a fake address, officials said yesterday, as they revealed that nearly 4,000 registration applications supplied by the left-leaning activist group were suspect.” In other words, there’s no evidence ACORN is enabling “illegal voting as a result of phony voter registration” except, coincidentally, in the pages of one of America’s largest newspapers, on the very day they hold a press conference to profess their innocence.

ACORN’s memo argues that this kind of fraud is rare because, “Even if someone wanted to influence the election this way, it would not work. Think of the risk someone would have to be motivated to take. They would be a sitting duck to be nabbed and prosecuted.”

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Even if you accept that voting in person under a fraudulent name or in multiple locations is comparatively rare, excess numbers of fraudulent names also enable fraud within the system. Imagine if you will a number of fraudulent votes cast under the names of people in a graveyard in Chicago — I know, quite a stretch. Obviously those people don’t show up at the polls, barring Election Night of the Living Dead. But somewhere along the line, somebody managed to read those names off the tombstones and add those names to the voter rolls so the fraudulent votes could be cast — if not by someone showing up at a polling place, then by someone within the system.

At the same time that ACORN claims that voter fraud is rare, the organization and those affiliated with it stand foursquare against sensible measures aimed at reducing such fraud. “There are an awful lot of voter intimidation tactics, including all of the ID laws that are out there,” said Bob Edgar, former congressman and CEO of Common Cause, at the press conference in defense of ACORN. Showing a driver’s license when you are writing a check or using a credit card as a means to reduce fraud is standard practice, acceptable to all Americans. Somehow, though, proving that you are who you say you are at a polling station amounts to “intimidation.”

As proof of the need to enfranchise new voters, ACORN presented Enrique Peralta, a former Bolivian who just gained U.S. citizenship last month and will be voting in the upcoming election. “I don’t understand why people would keep me off the rolls. They don’t know which way I will vote, I’ve never voted before,” Peralta said. Of course, no one is trying to keep Peralta off the rolls. Bizarrely, Peralta would go on to explain that he registered to vote in Fairfax County, Virginia — with no help from ACORN. Beyond his appearance at the press conference, his connection to the organization is unclear. ACORN claims to have registered 1.3 million new voters — and it couldn’t get a single new voter it had actually registered to turn up for its press conference?

#ad#Despite ACORN’s belated and unconvincing effort to defend itself from vote-fraud allegations, the Obama campaign is now distancing itself from the group — in the same half-hearted, unconvincing way that several other Obama allies have been begrudgingly disowned. “They are not advising our campaign. We’ve got the best voter registration and turnout and volunteer operation in politics right now and we don’t need ACORN’s help,” Obama said at a campaign stop in Ohio the day of ACORN’s press conference. Of course, just a few hours before Obama made that statement, ACORN’s Ohio affiliate sent out an e-mail announcing: “Ohio ACORN is doing a Get Out The Vote project with the OBAMA Campaign.”

To date, the Obama campaign has rejected the overtures from the McCain campaign to work together to reduce voter fraud. Danforth and Rudman sent a letter (PDF) to the Obama campaign on September 15, proposing to cooperate in reducing fraud:

Each campaign would list every precinct where either fears there is a potential for voter intimidation, fraud, or mistrust of the tabulation process on Election Day. To make this practical with only seven weeks remaining, we suggest this process be begun first in the commonly-identified Presidential battleground states. Each campaign would be responsible for recruiting a volunteer for each named precinct. The Republican and Democratic volunteers would work jointly as an observation team. We would recruit similarly bi-partisan teams assigned to oversee multiple precincts to respond to and investigate reports of problems. The teams would agree on avenues of appeals that could be taken to the courts, if needed. We would invite members of the media to be present either in a central location or embedded with the teams.

The Obama campaign has yet to respond, let alone take them up on their offer. The campaign is curiously silent about dealing with voter fraud, let alone speaking out about reforming the organizations that are enabling it. Obama is a community organizer at heart, and when it comes to ACORN’s agenda, it seems he doesn’t fall very far from the tree.

Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

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