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The Truth About ACORN

As criticism of ACORN heats up in the press, on the Internet and at McCain campaign rallies, it’s worth taking a step back and examining the charges.

GOP leaders have alleged that in registering 1.3 million new voters in 21 states, the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now has engaged in widespread voter fraud. They argue that ACORN’s improper registrations could allow, say, Mickey Mouse to cast a ballot for Sen. Barack Obama on Nov. 4.

What’s wrong with this picture?

First, as TWI’s Daphne Eviatar pointed out in an excellent post last week, even if Mickey Mouse makes it onto the registration rolls, there’s no way that he’ll actually cast a vote on Election Day. The fraud, Daphne writes, is not on the American electorate but on ACORN, which sees its time and money wasted, and its reputation tarnished, whenever one of its canvassers submits false registration applications.

Second, as ACORN representatives pointed out at a press conference this morning, the procedure ACORN uses in submitting registration applications makes it easier, not harder, for the states to determine which applications are valid.* *

At the National Press Club, ACORN spokesman Kevin Whelan, flanked by leaders of voter-advocacy groups and an out-of-place “new American and new voter” named Enrique, explained that the organization divides its applications into three piles: those whose validity has been verified, those that are missing some information and those that appear problematic.

Whelan said that ACORN submits all three piles, clearly marked and separated, to state election boards. It is the inclusion of the problematic applications that has led to the voter-fraud charges against ACORN.

Whelan argued that while ACORN makes recommendations to the states about which registrations are valid, it is neither the organization’s right nor its responsibility to exclude any forms from consideration by election boards.

Miles Rapoport, president of Demos and a former election official, said at the news conference that “it would be a real problem” if an independent organization like ACORN judged for itself which registration forms should be submitted. By submitting all forms it receives, ACORN ensures an objective and legal registration process.

As for the falsified forms that keep turning up, Whelan stated: “Out of 13,000 [ACORN] workers, there were inevitably a few who tried to pad their numbers.” But these workers earned no extra money for doing so, because ACORN pays “by the hour, not by the [registration] card.”

Whelan added, “If we discover anyone who has falsified cards, we ask state election officials” to prosecute the offenders.

The demographics of ACORN’s registration efforts help explain why the GOP has taken such a strong stand against the organization. (In a fund-raising email, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin referred to ACORN as a “left-wing activist group.”)

According to ACORN’s press materials, “an estimated 60-70 percent of our applicants are people of color” and “at least half of all registrations are from young people between 18-29.” Both voter groups are being targeted by Democrats.

But if Democrats stand to gain so much from ACORN’s registration drives, why did Sen. John McCain tell an audience at an ACORN-sponsored rally two years ago that groups like ACORN are “what makes America special”?

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