The Gist of the ACORN Story
Josh Marshall - 10.10.08
The Republican party is grasping on to the ACORN story as a way to delegitimize what now looks like the probable outcome of the November election. It is also a way to stoke the paranoia of their base, lay the groundwork for legal challenges of close outcomes in various states and promote new legal restrictions on legitimate voting by lower income voters and minorities. The big picture is that these claims of 'voter fraud' are themselves a fraud, a tool to aid in suppressing Democratic voter turnout. But I want give readers a bit more detail to understand what is going because the right-wing freak out about ACORN happens pretty much on schedule every two years. The whole scam is premised on having enough people who don't remember when they tried it before who they can then confuse and lie to. And this is clearly important because I'm hearing from a lot of people whose heart is in the right place thinking some real voter fraud conspiracy has been uncovered and that Obama has to distance himself from it post-haste.
ACORN registers lots of lower income and/or minority voters. They operate all across the country and do a lot of things beside voter registration. What's key to understand is their method. By and large they do not rely on volunteers to register voters. They hire people -- often people with low incomes or even the unemployed. This has the dual effect of not only registering people but also providing some work and income for people who are out of work. But because a lot of these people are doing it for the money, inevitably, a few of them cut corners or even cheat. So someone will end up filling out cards for nonexistent names and some of those slip through ACORN's own efforts to catch errors. (It's important to note that in many of the recent ACORN cases that have gotten the most attention it's ACORN itself that has turned the people in who did the fake registrations.) These reports start buzzing through the right-wing media every two years and every time the anecdotal reports of 'thousands' of fraudulent registrations turns out, on closer inspection, to be either totally bogus themselves or wildly exaggerated. So thousands of phony registrations ends up being, like, twelve.
I've always had questions about whether this is a good way to do voter registration. And Democratic campaigns usually keep their distance. But here's the key. This is fraud against ACORN. They end up paying people for registering more people then they actually signed up. If you register me three times to vote, the registrar will see two new registrations of an already registered person and the ones won't count. If I successfully register Mickey Mouse to vote, on election day, Mickey Mouse will still be a cartoon character who cannot go to the local voting station and vote. Logically speaking there's very little way a few phony names on the voting rolls could be used to commit actual vote fraud. And much more importantly, numerous studies and investigations have shown no evidence of anything more than a handful of isolated cases of actual instances of vote fraud.
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