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« Market Fundamentalism and the Madness of Crowds | Main | Guest Blogger: Michael Zweig's Proposal for Economic Stimulus »

Michael Winship: A Mighty Hoax from ACORN Grows

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

A Mighty Hoax from ACORN Grows
By Michael Winship

ACORN and election fraud. Hang on. 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 this very important topic.

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, killing two birds with one stone – giving employment to people who need it (some with criminal records) and providing the opportunity to vote to members of minority communities whose voices all too often go unheard.

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 line-up of the Dallas Cowboys, among others.

This is where the Republican meme kicks in. As they have in past elections (although now louder and more angrily than ever), the GOP has made ACORN the red flag du jour as the party tries to mobilize its conservative base and, allegedly, attempts to suppress the vote and distract attention from accusations of election tampering made against them, too.

The charge is that these fake registrations will create havoc at the polls. On Tuesday morning, former Republican Senators John Danforth and Warren Rudman, chairs of Senator 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.” Danforth said he was concerned “that this election night and the days that follow will be a rerun of 2000, and even worse than 2000.”

John McCain raised it at Wednesday night’s 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…”

Obama replied, “ACORN is a community organization. Apparently, what they have done is they were paying people to go out and register folks. And apparently, some of the people who were out there didn't really register people; they just filled out a bunch of names. 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. As he said in the debate, as a lawyer, he joined with the group in partnership with the US Justice Department to implement a motor voter registration law in Illinois – allowing folks to register to vote at their local DMV. His work as a community organizer bought him into contact with ACORN, the organization received money from the Woods Fund while he was a board member there and his presidential campaign gave ACORN more than $800,000 to help with get out the vote campaigns during the primary season – but not, apparently, for registration drives.

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 Senator 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 November 4 to vote in the election. Because they don’t exist. (Besides, Angelina would never give them time off from babysitting duties.)

Granted, there are ways to mail in an absentee ballot under a fake name and, too, from time to time some joker is going to come to the polls and try to bluff his or her way in. But despite the charge that thousands and thousands of fakes will flood the machines and throw the count, it does not happen very often. And according to ACORN, “Even RNC [Republican National Committee] General Counsel Sean Cairncross has recently acknowledged he is not aware of a single improper vote cast as a result of bad cards submitted in the course of an organized voter registration effort.”

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. Last year, THE NEW YORK TIMES reported that the federal Election Assistance Commission, created by the Help America Vote Act, legislation enacted after the Florida debacle, was told by a pair of experts – one Republican, the other described as having “liberal leanings” -- that there was not that much fraud to be found. But their conclusions were downplayed.

As per the TIMES, “Though the original report said that among experts ‘there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud,’ the final version of the report released to the public concluded in its executive summary that ‘there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.’”

Which raises the ongoing investigation of the Justice Department’s firing of those eight US 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 on Thursday, 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. Just this week, a Federal judge in Michigan ruled that voters could not be purged from the rolls in that state simply because their mailing address was invalid – this followed a failed attempt by a Michigan Republican county chairman to use a list of foreclosed homes as the basis of voter challenges.

This comes 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.” The report describes a "process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation."

Hardly reassuring words if you want democracy to work, and sadly, not an urban legend, but the simple truth.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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Comments

I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

The Help America Vote Act requires that every registration card given out must be returned regardless of whether it is marked "Sally Jones" or minnie mouse. Acorn did in fact flag them as bad or incorrect. Since Minnie Mouse or Sally Smith will not show up to vote the only one out of luck is ACORN or anyone else who is attempting to register voters and who doesn't get someone legitimately registered. That is WAY different from caging and wiping out huge numbers of legitimate voters.

This is important information. Too bad some of the commenters are so brainwashed they won't weigh it.

your defense of acorn's voter fraud makes me physically sick. you would be yelling twice as loud if the shoe was on the other foot. i beleive in sound principles of freedom. it is obvious that both choices are bad. both parties are currupt. as are their leaders. but obama beats the badness race hands down! not because of his skin color, but his idealogy, in all my years of watching politics (and i have watched since i was eleven) i have never seen anyone be given such a free pass from the media. they freaking coddle the guy! everybody else is grated over the coals for the smallest inconsistency. obama makes huge whopping ones and the press attacks anyone who suggests he might be anything but kosher! Like michelle bachman, her statement that she got trouble for was not even a definite statement. it was more of a i'm not so sure type of statement. i read what she said and i think it was blown way way way out of porportion. maybe the obama camp just got mad because she hit the nail on the head! (without really meaning to) i don't think she mentioned anyting about mccarthyism or even went that way. If i had been her i would have went farther and called a spade a spade!

I understand the need to deal with each charge as it comes, but when presented with such an unacceptable Republican option, there is a much larger and easier argument to be made.

The over-riding case can be made by observing the undisputed actions of the candidates.

A responsible report of the big oil tax situation in Alaska can be seen at:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008103325_alaskatax07.html

This report was written Aug. 10, before anyone knew that Palin was going to be the VP nominee.

From this we can see that Governor Palin imposed a windfall property tax and used it to hand out about $1200 in free money to all persons in Alaska. Her Republican predecessors had already set up a “oil wealth fund” system where individuals were given $2000 a year, and they had arranged that most state expenses were paid by taxes on the oil companies. Before Palin the Republicans had already put in place the most generous welfare system in the USA, and maybe in the world. She saw the opportunity to make it even better.

In the following link it is clear that Sarah Palin is very proud of the above accomplishment:

http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/434/video-webex.html

So it seems there is no dispute of the basic facts.

I suggest that there is a very close parallel between Sarah Palin and Hugo Chavez. Neither sees any problem with changing the deal for oil companies producing from "their" land. In fact, Palin is very proud of "taking on big oil."

Clearly Palin is skilled in doing popular things. Chavez is also very popular.

The difference is that Palin is advertised as a conservative and Chavez is called a socialist.

Palin, McCain, and the Republican party, all seem not to notice these similarities. They shout “Socialist” at Obama. Yes, he also has discussed a windfall profits tax, but this was not remotely like the parasitic Alaskan form of Socialism.
-----------
So now I submit that the above demonstrated leadership qualifications of Palin are limited to opportunistic skill. An opportunistic pattern of government might also be seen in looking at the $15 million “sports complex” which Palin is also proud of as evidence of her effective tenure as Mayor. In implementing this project she seems to have demonstrated about the same level of skill as typical small town mayors. The judgment that this would be the best use of money in a town of 7000, seems to be more of a serious question. Clearly it is a popular path for local leaders everywhere. It gets votes.

So McCain can be credited with a politically wise choice in selecting such a person. This seems like an opportunistic in itself, which can be challenged as bad judgment. It is particularly ironic that it turns the principles of conservative government inside out. At least there is nothing fundamentally unconstitutional about it.

But it is also widely known that Palin was the choice to “energize the Republican base,” and that this base means people of the fundamentalist religion sort. Pandering to a particular large group of people is not a surprise, but when there is a religious dimension to it, there is some reason for concern. There is a particular worry when that religious group takes absolutist views of the Bible. It is hard to believe any of them have actually read it, for it has so many internal contradictions and directives that are clearly not appropriate in the present day world.

Obviously it is appropriate for a President to have religious beliefs. The question is boundaries, generally known as the “separation of church and state.” So it is appropriate to observe how this is handled by the various candidates. The basic lack of neutrality in religion is immediately apparent when a candidate is selected for her religious relationship to a large group. It seemed somewhat reassuring when Palin said she respects other opinions on the abortion subject, but there was something lacking in the way this was said. Clearly, abortion is an issue that is viewed differently by people depending on their religion. Government needs to be very careful about treading in any such area. The style of Palin’s campaigning raises alarms, at least for this observer. I was happy to see McCain toning things down a little, but this was not enough to make me comfortable about Palin.

As to all the little things that are not very important in themselves, such as husband’s presence in governor’s affairs, saying that children are traveling on “official business,” negotiating experience with the Russians, military command experience claims, and foreign travel claims, reading “all the papers,” and so on, all these things taken together seem to show incapacity in understanding the very words, facts, and concepts under discussion. All the while she quickly learns a set of jargon to spew forth. How can she be expected to even understand boundaries, let alone handle the difficult balances that must be achieved by the President.

John McCain should not have done this. It disqualifies him

In the 2000 Presidential Election, Vice President Gore didn't even carry his own state (Tenn.) in the electoral college. Had Mr. Gore won his home state of Tennessee (where he was born, grew-up, lived, served as a Senator from and had his 2000 Campaign HQ stationed), Florida's votes would not have even mattered. Could we please stop this inane drivel about "George W. Bush stole the 2000 election." He didn't. Vice President Gore lost. For a 'scholar' Mr. Miller does not have his 'facts' correct in this circumstance.

Goldengrahme,
I get the feeling that you are bitter about Senator Clinton and taking it out on Obama. Clinton is no longer a choice and the Democrats need to win in order to salvage our nation.
If you are a patriot; you need to support Obama. The Republican agenda is destroying our nation.

Once again a liberal media site is foresquare in the Obama column; I am particuarly dismayed, as a Democrat turned Independent after the Obamanistas stole the causcus votes from Hillary,
to find PBS has sipped the Barack-flavored Kool Aid.

Please, don't redefine the Obama campaign in light of past GOP crimes and fraud.
Standing on its own--as a separate entity sans bias, the whole flying enterprise from the Reid/Pelosi axis to Axelrod to Howard Dean to ACORN to the perennially corrupt Chicago political machine--smells to high heaven.

Mark Crispin Miller, was, IMO, particularly over dramatic; he seemed to be pitching a closely-held religious belief rather than a political position.
And we know religion is accepted on faith.

ACORN's many underhanded tactics are documented. But like the Bush cabal of yesteryear, nothing will come of it. Seems it is payback time and everyone wants a change in D.C. Won't matter that the chosen One is as incompetent, politically ineffectual, limited in vision, personally corrupted, and morally challenged as his predecessor.

Congratulations: you have just become part of the problem and isn't that a
hard pill to swallow within your self-satisfied illusions of a major coup?
You have simply shot the American voter in the foot and rendered the process null and void.

Interesting piece. One thing worth noting is that ACORN doesn't pay per signature (in most states that's illegal, since it's such an obvious incentive to fraud).

As Mark Crispin Miller said, it is indeed difficult to assimilate the overwhelming history of real voter fraud by party affiliates, so we should be grateful for the citizens who have organized to check such problems this time around. Let's make certain, however, that those rising to the cause are themselves not fraudulent or double-sided.

I've heard potential voters say that they will not cast a vote this year since they don't believe it will be counted anyway. By not voting, they are admitting defeat from the very start. Please vote. Do not let stories about voter fraud or long lines at polling places deter you.

I think that if we aspire to be a Democracy; it is necessary to have organizations that support the democratic process. If it is true that Acorn is a bipartison organization that is solely interested in getting citizens to vote; there is no problem. The opinions of radicals in the group should not reflect on the rest of the group.
Destructive behavior, false accusations and unlawful action cannot be tolerated. It is morally wrong and counter productive.
The personal attacks by the republican propoganda machine calling liberals anti-american is criminal.
Liberals want this country to be a place run by the people and for the people not a country run by a dictator for the vested interests of the rich and greedy. There is nothing conservative about what the republicans have been doing for the last eight years. Their lies, wasteful spending and support of an occupation based on false pretense are documented.
It is the republicans who hate this country and are trying to destroy it.
Open up your eyes and see what the republicans have done to this country in the last eight years.
The republicans are not conservative! They are fascists who are undermining the constitution of the United States. They are spending us into poverty and destroying our quality of life.
The republicans are known for their lies and deceit.
Do not let lies destroy our country.

Excuse me Mr. Winslip, sir, but it is documented that ACORN is guilty of registering fictitious people. There was a picture in the WSJ with a registration card saying MICKEY MOUSE. Man, this is manifestly obvious and it is nuts to claim this as some 'right wing' conspiracy. Even if you were not a liberal, surely you would want to maintain the integrity of the voting process. If white Republicans were doing this, you would be apoplectic. Also, do not tell me that ACORN is not suffused with rage at this nation and is NOT ANTI-WHITE.

also republicans need to educate themselves for there is a difference between registration and actual voting. I registered but did not vote for years. So just because you register does not mean you vote and people who lie about registering will take the money and not vote.

I love the way the republicans always claim that democrats are for voter fraud but when there is real proof of their voter supression they are in total denial. See how whatsup stated that Obama lied about his involvement with ACORN but did not deny that republicans have tried and did succeed in voter supression. sick people

BULL!

PS :Frank ,1 gushing rely is ok!

This piece was just another long winded flatulance.
PS.is voter fraud wrong? YES IT IS!!Is ACORN guilty of paying street people to sign up people?Oh yes--They are also guilty of paying per sign up!

Oh , Frank please , only one gushing reply per!

This is an interesting article that posts a point of view that is very closely aligned with the official viewpoint of Acorn itself, so I think that the article does a good job of presenting that viewpoint.

However, I believe that it is not the only point of view worth considering. Stanley Kurtz of the National Review wrote and extensive piece based on quite a bit of primary research on his part. Not only does Kurtz’s piece contrast with Mr. Winship’s, it also is at variance with the statement that Barak Obama flatly made in the third Presidential debate, “The only involvement I’ve had with Acorn was I represented them, alongside the U.S. Justice Department, in making Illinois implement a motor voter law that helped people get registered at DMVs.”

Here is the Web address of that article:
http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=NDZiMjkwMDczZWI5ODdjOWYxZTIzZGIyNzEyMjE0ODI=&w=MA==

Kurtz said in a recent TV interview that he has tried to interest mainstream media in pursuing some of these topics further, but so far has not found many takers.

So there are obviously no more complaints about election fraud in other countries as the US are now entering the LEAGUE OF NATIONS with rigged elections. The REPUBLICANS are scared because they are becoming a minority. No wonder with all this ethnic groups growing and registering for the DEMOCRATIC PARTY. Another result of the failed PRESIDENCY of GW.

Great article!

Americans just don't understand the difference between voter registration, voter fraud and election fraud.

Our democracy really is in peril if the GOP continues the election fraud they are so adept at.


Nice piece. These days, democracy is only for those who can afford it.

Nice piece. These days, democracy is only for those who can afford it.

Nice piece. These days, democracy is only for those who can afford it.

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