A Dose of Reality on the ACORN Hysteria

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It’s worth taking a moment to step back from the slew of charges leveled over the last week at ACORN, the community-organizing group that Republicans and the McCain campaign have been trying to turn into a bogeyman for fears about vote fraud (and, of course, tie to Barack Obama).

The GOP has accused ACORN of submitting fraudulent voter registration forms numbering in the hundreds or thousands, in battleground states including Ohio, Indiana, Nevada, and Missouri.

But the most important point that’s getting lost in the Fox-generated hysteria is that, according to voting experts, even when fraudulent voter registration forms are submitted, they virtually never lead to fraudulent votes being cast. Richard Hasen, a law professor at Loyola and an authority on voting law, wrote in a 2007 op-ed published last year in the Dallas Morning News and noted recently by TPM, that “the idea of massive polling-place fraud (through the use of inflated voter rolls) is inherently incredible,” because of the sheer logistical challenges it would require to carry out on a large scale.

In many states, ACORN is required by law to turn in all the forms it collects, though the law differs from state to law, according to experts.

ACORN has consistently said that it flags suspicious forms for election officials. Indeed, in Nevada where last week an ACORN office was raided in an investigation headed by the Secretary of State, ACORN was already cooperating with authorities.

According to a statement from the group which has not been disputed by state officials, in July, ACORN set up a meeting with county elections officials and the Secretary of State’s office to urge them to take action on information ACORN had provided. Since then, “ACORN has provided officials with copies and–in some cases–second copies of many of the personnel records and the ‘problem card packages’ and cover sheets with which we originally identified the problem cards.”

It’s also worth noting that similar allegations were made against ACORN in the last few election cycles, and several investigations were conducted, none of which found evidence of widespread voter fraud. Many of these were conducted by US attorneys, who were pressured by GOP political figures to investigate the issue, then fired after they failed to come up with sufficient evidence.

So as the GOP campaign to make an issue out of ACORN continues — and we’ll be keeping you posted as it does — remember that the number of fraudulent votes that will be cast in November as a result of the group’s voter-registration activities is close to zero. But the number of valid voters who could potentially have obstacles placed in their way of voting, as a result of the Republican campaign, is far larger.