Election 2008

ACORN Calls Police Raid of Las Vegas Office a Political "Stunt"

The group had been sharing material about problem voter registrations with Nevada officials for months.
Nevada law enforcement officers raided the Las Vegas office of ACORN, a low-income advocacy group, on Tuesday to gather evidence into "complaints" of intentionally falsifying voter registration forms by the group that just this week announced it had registered more than 1.3 million voters in 16 states during 2008.

The raid was prompted by "complaints" about fabricating voter applications, said Bob Walsh, spokesman for Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat, whose office is leading the investigation. Walsh declined to say who made the complaints and how many voter registrations were in question. He said computers and other seized records would be examined. No arrests were made.

"When you get information that suggests that it is intentional (falsifying registrations), I don't care if it is one or 10,000 - you have to act," Walsh said.

But officials with Project Vote, which coordinates ACORN's voter drives, called the raid a political "stunt," saying the Las Vegas office had been meeting with Nevada's election officials since February and as late as July to notify them of suspect registration forms and turned over materials that could be used to prosecute possible registration fraud.

ACORN typically hires registration workers from the communities it serves. Because it has had problems in the past with a handful of employees and their voter registrations, it has adopted vigorous quality controls to vet applications. It also has a proactive policy of turning over questionable documents to local law enforcement agencies to prosecute.

"This is a stunt because we have been working with election officials since the beginning of February to identify problem (registration) cards and when they did not take that seriously, we met with them and asked them to please investigate these problem applications," said Michael Slater, Project Vote executive director. "We then gave them a whole set of materials, including information on the (ACORN) employees that we were concerned about and were cooperating fully."

"For them to execute some sort of search warrant and flag or call attention to the media while we did that is nothing more than a stunt since we were already providing information about the problem and in fact flagged the problem for them and asked them to take it seriously," he said.

Earlier this year, ACORN's Las Vegas office had turned over "at least 74 packages of problematic cards; there could be one or more voter applications per package," Slater said. ACORN then met with the Secretary of State's staff in mid-July and then turned over "46 packages, implicating 33 separate canvassers," he said. In 2008, ACORN registered more than 80,000 voters in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located.

"We flagged 200 applications out of those," Slater said. "More than 99 percent of the applications were valid applications. I don't understand the politics of it. I don't understand why they would go out and make a public show of information that we had already been providing them, and do it on the day when we were announcing the successful conclusion of our (2008 voter drive) work. It does seem political."

Nevada Secretary of State Spokesman Walsh confirmed that ACORN had been meeting with his office earlier in the year, and had turned over materials that could be used in possible prosecutions. He defended the raid saying the voter registration problems could have been more extensive than what ACORN reported to the state.

"Just because they turned stuff in doesn't mean we got it all," Walsh said. "There was stuff that we felt wasn't turned in to us - not necessarily for nefarious reasons."

Walsh said there were many other voter registration groups active in Nevada this year, but none had come forward and contacted state officials about potentially problematic registrations. He would not speculate if those groups also might have problems with registration forms, as election officials always have a small percentage of voter applications that contain typos, misspelled and illegible names, and other problems causing those individuals not to be added to voter rolls.

"We can only go by the information we get," Walsh said. "We don't do it randomly We had knowledge of allegations of a crime and we pursued it."
Steven Rosenfeld is a Senior Fellow at AlterNet.org, where he reports on elections from a voting rights perspective. His books include Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting (AlterNet Books, 2008), What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election (The New Press, 2006), and Making History in Vermont: The Election of a Socialist to Congress (Hollowbrook Publishing, 1992). An award-winning journalist, he has been a staff reporter at National Public Radio, Monitor Radio, TomPaine.com, and at daily and weekly newspapers in Vermont.