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GOP Attacks on ACORN Are Based on the Fear of 1.3 Million New Voters

Jesse Jackson Jr, Steven Rosenfeld, Digby and Marc Ambinder on the GOP's race-baiting and smear job against ACORN's massive registration efforts.
 
 
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Jesse Jackson Jr. from the Huffington Post: What the Republicans are Really Afraid of

The Republicans tried to make fun of Barack Obama as a community organizer at their national convention in Minnesota, which I guess just goes to show how little Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have to fear from right-wing "humor."

Now they've gone further: Now they're attacking ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), one of the strongest, hardest-working, most dedicated community organizations in both Chicago and in 40 states across the U.S.

Why are they after ACORN? Well, I'm sure they're going to come up with a lot of "reasons" in the coming days. But the real reason is obvious: Because ACORN, along with Project Vote, just announced that they had successfully registered 1.3 million poor people this year.

Get that? 1.3 million, including 148,000 in Pennsylvania, 152,000 in Florida, 217,000 in Michigan, and 238,000 in Ohio. No wonder the GOP is up in arms. They're scared of too many poor people preparing to vote this year.

In the last week, the right wing has tried to blame ACORN for the collapse of the globalized financial system--yeah, that's a viable argument. They got excited because they found a some possible fake registration forms in Florida, which predictably led to a bunch of whining from the party that stole an entire presidency from Al Gore by blocking vote counts, mischaracterizing voters as felons, refusing to recount entire counties, sending congressional staff down to riot and intimidate volunteer vote-counters, and topped it all off with the most partisan, badly-reasoned, illegitimate Supreme Court decision since Plessy v. Ferguson. A decision so illegitimate that the partisan majority, to their eternal discredit, themselves damned by writing into their own decision that it should never be used as a precedent for any other court ruling.

This week, the right-wing is hyperventilating because apparently Democratic election officials raided an ACORN office after they found the names of some Dallas Cowboy football players among the 80,000 new registration forms that ACORN helped to get done in Nevada.

Obviously it's not right for a fake "Tony Romo" to be registered in Las Vegas, so someone was probably playing a not-very-funny joke, or trying to pad their registration numbers to get paid a little more money rather than doing the hard work in the hot Nevada sun that helping voters to register requires, or maybe a provocateur was setting up ACORN for some bad press. But remember the basic point--it's not voter fraud unless someone shows up at the voting booth on election day and tries to pass himself off as "Tony Romo." And who would try to do that? No one is going to be that stupid.

The truth is, the main voter fraud efforts going on in my lifetime--and I was born the week of the Selma march in 1965--have been repeated conservative attempts, far too many of them successful, to demonize and suppress the vote of African-Americans and Latinos in election after election, a history for which former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman actually apologized a few years ago, while promising the GOP would no longer engage in such tactics.

So they stole an election from Gore, made the Department of Justice into an outfit for partisan hacks, allowed New Orleans to drown, lied us into a war against a country that did not threaten us, replaced science with bad ideology, indebted our grandchildren to China, and turned our banking system into a deregulated casino--but thank the Lord that "Tony Romo" will not be able to sneak in to vote in Nevada next month.

This time, there are already fake flyers mysteriously appearing on the streets of minority areas of Philadelphia, illegal voter purges in numerous states, "caging" tricks, threats of using home foreclosure lists to strike voters from the rolls, and "black box" electronic vote-counting systems under the control of private companies--and we haven't even gotten to election day!

Meanwhile, I say thank you, ACORN. Thank you, Project Vote, for taking our democracy seriously enough to try to include 1.3 million more poor people in a more perfect union.

Steven Rosenfeld: McCain's Racist ad

John McCain's latest ad attacking Barack Obama and ACORN, the low-income advocacy group whose members mostly are people of color, is not just false on the facts, it may be the most racist ad in presidential politics since 1988's infamous Willie Horton mug shot.

In 1988, allies of the Republican candidate, George H.W. Bush, used a mug shot of the convicted murderer, an African-American with an afro and a beard, to attack Democrat Michael Dukakis, because he was governor when Horton, who was sentenced to life in prison, was given a weekend furlough where he escaped and raped a woman. The ad preyed on the stereotype that African-American men are violent and to be feared, and Dukakis ignored such threats.

The latest McCain ad, playing online, seeks to raise similarly race-based guilt-by-association fears by claiming that ACORN, and Obama, were supporters of bad home loans to poor people and those loans are responsible for the global credit crisis. In other words, the blame for today's financial panic are Obama -- and ACORN-backed loans to black and brown people.

That assertion is simply not true and is based on the public not distinguishing between local lenders and Wall Street firms.

The 90-second McCain ad says:

"Who is Barack Obama? A man with 'a political baptism performed at warp speed, vast ambition. After college, he moved to Chicago. Became a community organizer. There, Obama met Madeleine Talbot, part of the Chicago branch of ACORN. He was so impressive that he was asked to train the ACORN staff.

"What did ACORN in Chicago engage in? Bullying banks, intimidation tactics, disruption of business. ACORN forced banks to issue risky home loans. The same types of loans that caused the financial crisis we're in today. No wonder Obama's campaign is trying to distance him from the group, saying, 'Barack Obama never organized with ACORN.'

"But Obama's ties to ACORN run long and deep. He taught classes for ACORN. They even endorsed him for president. But now ACORN is in trouble."

The ad goes on to accuse ACORN of "massive voter fraud," saying it is under investigation in 11 states "for thousands of potentially fraudulent ACORN (voter registration) forms."

How is McCain trying to turn ACORN into 2008's Willie Horton?

ACORN's members are largely people of color. It is a network of community groups that work on many issues, such as housing and helping people get home loans from local banks. McCain's attack seeks to confuse some bad home loans by community banks with the global practices of investment banks that bought, bundled and sold mortgage-based securities. It is apples and oranges. ACORN, in fact, warned clients not to borrow from "predatory lenders," a term it coined. Poor people, and people of color, did not cause 2008's credit crisis and stock market meltdown.

But blaming the poor for others' misdeeds in nothing new, just as stoking stereotypes based on the fear of minorities gaining power is also an old and ugly American tradition. That is the other part of McCain's attack on ACORN, which ran the most successful voter registration drive outside of the political parties in 2008.

ACORN registered more than 1.3 million people in 2008 including 148,000 voters in Pennsylvania, 152,000 voters in Florida, 217,000 voters in Michigan, and 238,000 voters in Ohio. To achieve this, it hired 13,000 people. Some of those hires tried to defraud ACORN by turning in voter registrations with fake names, which ACORN found, tagged and turned over to local police and urged them to prosecute. Most states require all voter applications, even ones with obvious mistakes, to be turned it. It is that record, compiled and released by ACORN, which the GOP is using to accuse ACORN of "massive voter fraud."

At most, the number of questionable voter registrations flagged and submitted by ACORN across the country was under 10,000, according to knowledgeable estimates. None of these registrations will lead to anybody voting, however, as they would be rejected by election officials who process registrations. No "massive voter fraud" has been perpetuated. If anything, the screening process, both by ACORN and election officials, works.

Moreover, compare ACORN's error rate to the number of petition signatures that get gathered and rejected in ballot initiative drives by other groups that hire campaign workers. States and counties routinely reject tens of thousands of signatures when qualifying ballot measures and no one screams "massive voter fraud."

The McCain ad is an attack on the under-represented people in America who ACORN has succeeded in bringing into the political system - young people, minorities, low-income people. McCain is blaming them and their community organizations for Wall Street's excesses, just as he is attacking their legitimacy as voters. In 2008, this is political racism.

Digby: GOP's Fraudulent Fraud Campaign

It's becoming clear that the fraudulent GOP "vote fraud" project is up and running at full speed and will likely be a huge story for well beyond the election. Rick Perlstein had an interaction with John Fund recently, who said right out that Democrats didn't believe in election law and would try to count illegal votes. He's selling books so perhaps his hyperbole is just salesmanship, but his prediction that a close election will be thrown into doubt because of Republican efforts to challenge every provisional ballot sounds quite plausible to me.

The process of turning ACORN into a terrorist sleeper cell has begun and I see little hope that they aren't going to be successful. The press is clearly fascinated by the right wing caricature of a group of shiftless "community organizers" trading crack for Obama votes in the inner city and have done exactly zero research into the issue, so the reporting has been hysterical.

I have written many times about this report (pdf) from 2004 about the history of Republican vote suppression efforts and I urge you to take the time to read the whole thing if you haven't. This has been a tool of conservatives of all parties since the beginning of the Republic, but it's only been since the 1980s that the Republicans professionalized it with the formation of the Republican National Lawyers Association. The report shows that the Jesse Jackson campaign's successful new voter registration efforts was a particular impetus for GOP efforts to promote the false allegation that there is systematic voter fraud in the land.

This is the first election where we may see the full effect of this project. The Republican National Lawyers association were a vital part of the Florida recount (they even give out an award to certain lawyers featuring some of the famous Florida chads) but this may be where the true genius of the project lies. We are going to have what appears to be a substantial Democratic victory by an African American with a strong minority constituency. The totals may not be close. But by ratcheting up this spectre of "voter fraud" in advance, they are helping to lay the groundwork for delegitimizing a president Obama in the eyes of a large number of Americans.

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Marc Ambinder from the Atlantic Monthly:

Republicans v ACORN has become a perennial early October antagonism, and tensions this year are particularly acute, with Republicans from the McCain campaign all the way down to House Republicans accusing the left-leaning community organizing group of a national conspiracy to flood secretaries of state with fraudulent voter registrations. 

It's true, as Ben Smith notes, that Bugs Bunny and other imaginary voters can't imaginably show up at polling precincts and vote, but Republican complaints, to the extent that they are legitimate, are different. It's the rush of voter registrations at the end of the cycle, a rush which leaves election supervisors in the untenable position of having to very quickly decide whether applications are valid or not. Often, bad applications get through.  Critics of ACORN wonder: why are fraudulent applications submitted in the first place? It's the system; you pay people to turn in as many voter registration cards as possible, you invite people who want more money to submit false forms. Critics also wonder: why aren't more people -- read the media -- covering this?  After all, incidences of fraud are rampant, with official investigations launched in 12 states. Now -- "rampant" might not be the best adjective. Voter registration cards aren't the property of ACORN or any other group, and ACORN is required by law to turn in every completed form -- even if they're obviously fraudulent. ACORN insists it has procedures in place to flag these forms, but you can't blame supervisors of elections from throwing up their hands when they come in.

Even some Democratic groups are wary, not because they think ACORN's doing bad work, but because the sheer size of ACORN's operation lends itself to individuals who can easily game the system, and because the focus on ACORN increases the scrutiny of their own work.  It's clear that there's extraordinary interest in this election, and huge amounts of new voters are entering the system, and, sorry Republicans, they're not…Republicans. These October protests seem like a logical place for conservative activists to  hold and nurture their grievances about the political environment. Call it galling, for example, that ACORN's voter reg. projects are nominally non-partisan, when, in point of fact, the places they go and the things they do seem to help Democrats disproportionately.  Galling, but conservative groups can set up voter reg. organizations like this if they want.

After the jump, read an internal memo from ACORN's directors, Bertha Lewis and Steve Kest, to its political allies, where the claim that ACORN has become a right-wing bogeyman is advanced.

To: Interested Parties
From: Bertha Lewis and Steve Kest
Date:  October 9, 2008
Re: The Truth About ACORN's Voter Registration Drive

Election Day is less than a month away, and our efforts to make sure that low-income and minority voters have a voice and vote on November 4th are in full swing.  Unfortunately, just as we've seen in previous election cycles, the more success we have in empowering these voters, the more attacks we have to fend off from partisan forces making unfounded accusations to disparage our work and help maintain the status quo of an unbalanced electorate. We want to take this opportunity to separate the facts of our successes from the falsehoods of our attackers.

On Monday, October 6, as voter registration deadlines passed in most states, ACORN completed the largest, most successful nonpartisan voter registration drive in history.  In partnership with the nonpartisan organization Project Vote, we helped register over 1.3 million low-income, minority, and young voters in a total of 21 states.  Highlights of this success include:

We collected over 151,000 registrations in Florida, 153,000 in Pennsylvania, 215,000 in Michigan, and nearly 250,000 in Ohio.

An estimated 60-70 percent of our applicants are people of color.

At least HALF of all are registrations are from young people between 18-29.

We are proud of this unprecedented success, and grateful to everyone who supported us in this massive effort, from our funders and partners to the literally thousands of hardworking individuals across the country who dedicated themselves to the cause and conducted the difficult work of registering 1.3 million Americans, one voter at a time.

And this work is far from over: now begins our effort mobilize these new voters around local and national issues, getting them to the polls and helping to channel their commitment and conviction into an ongoing movement for change in our communities.

As The Nation pointed out recently, ACORN's success in registering millions of low-income and minority voters has made it "something of a right-wing bogeyman." Though ACORN believes that the right to vote is not, and should never be, a partisan issue, attacks from groups threatened by our historic success continue to come, motivated by partisan politics and often perpetuated by the media without full investigation of the facts. As a result, there have been a few recent stories about investigations of former ACORN workers for turning in incomplete, erroneous, or fraudulent voter registration applications. Predictably, partisan forces have tried to use these isolated incidents to incite fear of the "bogeyman" of "widespread voter fraud." But we want to take this opportunity to set the record straight and tell you a few facts to show how these incidents really exemplify everything that ACORN is doing right:

Fact: ACORN has implemented the most sophisticated quality-control system in the voter engagement field, but in almost every state we are required to turn in ALL completed applications, even the ones we know to be problematic.

Fact: ACORN flags incomplete, problem, or suspicious cards when we turn them in, but these warnings are often ignored by election officials. Often these same officials then come back weeks or months later and accuse us of deliberately turning in phony cards.

Fact: Our canvassers are paid by the hour, not by the card, so there is NO incentive for them to falsify cards. ACORN has a zero-tolerance policy for deliberately falsifying registrations, and in the relatively rare cases where our internal quality controls have identified this happening we have fired the workers involved and turned them in to election officials and law-enforcement.

Fact: No charges have ever been brought against ACORN itself.  Convictions against individual former ACORN workers have been accomplished with our full cooperation, using the evidence obtained through our quality control and verification processes.

Fact: Voter fraud by individuals is extremely rare, and incredibly difficult. There has never been a single proven case of anyone, anywhere, casting an illegal vote as a result of a phony voter registration. Even if someone wanted to influence the election this way, it would not work.

Fact: Most election officials have recognized ACORN's good work and praised our quality control systems. Even in the cities where election officials have complained about ACORN, the applications in question represent less than 1% of the thousands and thousands of registrations ACORN has collected.

Fact: Our accusers not only fail to provide any evidence, they fail to suggest a motive: there is virtually no chance anyone would be able to vote fraudulently, so there is no reason to deliberately submit phony registrations. ACORN is committed to ensuring that the greatest possible numbers of people are registered and allowed to vote, so there is also NO incentive to "disrupt the system" with phony cards.

Fact: Similar accusations were made, and attacks launched, against ACORN and other voter registration organizations in 2004 and 2006. These attacks were not only groundless, they have since been exposed as part of the U.S. Attorneygate scandal and revealed to be part of a systematic partisan agenda of voter suppression.

These are the facts, and the truth is that a relatively small group of political operatives are trying to orchestrate hysteria about "voter fraud" and manufacture public outrage that they can use to further suppress the votes of millions of low-income and minority Americans.

These tactics are nothing new, and history has shown that they will come to nothing. We'll continue to weather the storm, as we've done for years, and we'll continue to share the truth about our work and express pride about our accomplishments.
Most importantly, we want to assure you that this good work continues, unabated and undeterred. ACORN will not be intimidated, we will not be provoked, and in this important moment in history we will not allow anyone to distract us from these vital efforts to empower our constituencies and our communities to speak for themselves. If the partisan political machines are afraid of low-income and minority voters, they're going to have to do a lot better than coming after ACORN.

After all, there are now at least 1.3 million more of them, and they will not be silenced. They're taking an interest, and taking a stand, and they'll be taking their concerns to the voting booth in November.

And ACORN will be here, to make sure that the voices of these Americans are heard, on Election Day and for every day to come.

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