The Gist of the ACORN Story

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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.

To expand on this point let me quote from Richard Hasen, one of the most experienced and concise commentators on this question, from a June 2007 column in the Dallas Morning News

At least in hindsight, the center’s line of argument is easily deconstructed. First, arguing by anecdote is dangerous business. A new report by Lorraine Minnite of Barnard College looks at these anecdotes and shows them to be, for the most part, wholly spurious. Sure, one can find a rare case of someone voting in two jurisdictions, but nothing extensive or systematic has been unearthed or documented.

But perhaps most importantly, the idea of massive polling-place fraud (through the use of inflated voter rolls) is inherently incredible. Suppose I want to swing the Missouri election for my preferred presidential candidate. I would have to figure out who the fake, dead or missing people on the registration rolls are, then pay a lot of other individuals to go to the polling place and claim to be that person, without any return guarantee – thanks to the secret ballot – that any of them will cast a vote for my preferred candidate.

Those who do show up at the polls run the risk of being detected and charged with a felony. And for what – $10? Polling-place fraud, in short, makes no sense.

The Justice Department devoted unprecedented resources to ferreting out fraud over five years and appears to have found not a single prosecutable case across the country. Of the many experts consulted, the only dissenter from that position was a representative of the now-evaporated American Center for Voting Rights.

Again, there have been numerous investigations of this. Often by people with at least a mild political interest in finding wrongdoing. But they never find it. It always ends up being right-wing hype and lies. Remember, most of those now-famous fired US Attorneys from 2007 were Republican appointees who were canned after they got tasked with investigating allegations of widespread vote fraud, did everything they could to find it, but came up with nothing. That was the wrong answer so Karl Rove and his crew at the Justice Department fired them.

Vote registration fraud is a limited and relatively minor problem in the US today. But it is principally an administrative and efficiency issue. It is has little or nothing to do with people casting illegitimate votes to affect an actual election. That’s the key. What you’re hearing right now from Fox News, the New York Post, John Fund and the rest of the right-wing bamboozlement chorus is a just another effort to exploit, confuse and lie in an effort to put more severe restrictions on legitimate voting and lay the groundwork to steal elections.

It’s that simple.

Late Update: McCain’s sleaze and disgrace just runs deeper and deeper. This just in from TPM Reader DW

McCain’s team has been pushing it on reporters today and just put out one of the most obvious web videos yet.

I say “obvious” because the implication of the 24/7 Fox coverage is made blatant. It’s transference. It’s saying to white voters, “we know you’re angry about the economy. Don’t blame Wall Street. Blame the n—–s.”

McCain’s going to lose, and he knows it. This is a 90-second ad aimed at the base who are watching Fox News. But he’s setting up a large proportion (maybe the majority) of the GOP base to believe that scary blacks stole the election for Barack Obama. He’s stoking race hatred. He is scum, and if in 10 years his name isn’t synonymous with Lester Maddox and George Wallace than historians won’t have done their job.

It’s really true. The essence of McCain’s campaign now appears to amount to prepping McCain’s base to believe they didn’t really lose the election. The election was stolen from them by Barack and his army of gangsters and black street hustlers.

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