On One Hand

October 14, 2008

What’s all this about ACORN?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 10:55 pm

Republican groups are howling about ACORN as if it were the Democrats’ version of Catherine Harris and the Florida-2000 hanging chad fiasco. What are they talking about?

Let’s examine the real issues:

I have a lot of personal experience with ACORN because we have the same purpose of registering voters, we do it in the exact same way, and in many cases I worked alongside ACORN representatives as they register voters in the same location. The group may be a bit disorganized at times, but ACORN’s policies are basically the same as ours: you go out onto the streets to register voters, and you turn in every registration form that someone fills out with you.

The accusation is that ACORN is turning in all kinds of false forms, with names like John Elway or Johnny Cash, and also multiple registrations from the same person on different days. None of these “problems” are ACORN’s responsibility and none of them could possibly lead to voter fraud.

First, if the same person registers to vote at the same address numerous times, county clerks record the first one and each subsequent form is treated as an “update.” Many people do register more than once in a season – because they move, because they change their mind about a party affiliation to vote in the primaries, to request being added to the mail-in ballot list, or because they worried that they didn’t fill the form out correctly last time. Many people register numerous times because they dis-trust the registration system after hearing about disenfranchised voters elsewhere – or hear rumors that they may have been accidentally removed from the list in a voter purge, which sometimes actually happens – and they want to be sure that at least one form makes it through so they can vote. In no way does this allow one person to vote more than once.

Other people register more than once because they think you get paid per form and want to help you out – which isn’t true; federal law require you to be paid by the hour and ACORN pays all employees by the hour – but just the same, each time a new form that comes in it is filed as an “update” and simply overwrites the previous registration.

Second, teenagers may lie about their age and register to vote as an adult, or someone may be goofing off and register to vote as Chris Rock. But if you work for ACORN or a similar group, the policy is to turn in EVERY form you get, even if you suspect it is false, and that’s for good reason – because selecting which forms go in and which don’t opens up the potential for disenfranchisement. County clerks process every form and are perfectly capable of weeding out suspicious forms themselves, but in a more credible way, because they have access to identification numbers and state records.

That’s right – the policy of turning in every form is there to make the registration process more secure. Conservatives surely suspect ACORN’s Democratic-leaning values, and the rule mandating that groups like ACORN cannot throw away any forms protects everyone they register. Say, hypothetically, that ACORN reps were allowed to weed out suspicious forms; that means if you register as a Republican, and they are seeking to elect a Democrat, they could declare you suspicious, throw away your form and disenfranchise you as a voter. Conservatives are absolutely freaking out about this policy, even though they are the very people the policy is designed to protect.

And if someone in a voter registration drive does throw away a form because of the voter’s party affiliation, let me be clear – that’s wrong, that’s a crime, and it should be dealt with swiftly. I’m sure that out of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been active in voter registration drives, some of them have broken the rules. But the answer to that isn’t to abolish these groups, it’s to make it easier for people to check their registration status or to register again if there is a problem – changes in the system that Democrats generally support, and Republicans generally oppose.

Nobody is allowed to vote on Election Day without some form of identification with their name on it. So unless you have John F. Kennedy’s driver’s license and social security number, you won’t be allowed to vote in his name on Election Day.

And as it turns out, many of those suspect forms do turn out to be real. This summer I registered four people named Jennifer Lopez, and was suspicious every time, but it turns out it is just an incredibly common name among Latinos in Colorado because they all had state-issued driver’s liscenses. If we had decided to absolve ourselves of the risk of aiding a troublemaker and throw those forms away, those would be four people who trusted they were registered and wouldn’t be allowed to vote on election day.

It is ultimately the government’s call whether or not to trust a form, or to seek additional information by contacting that person to verify (all voters must register with an address). And text on the forms states it is a crime to falsify information on it, but if someone does, they are the one who committed the crime, not us as facilitators.

Republicans sensing they are losing the election are hoping to scare the public into thinking ACORN is a bag of dirty tricks, as if ACORN representatives had access to the voter roles themselves and that they’re going to add thousands or millions of illegitimate votes to the final count on election day. Perhaps they want Republicans to distrust an Obama win the way that Democrats distrusted George W. Bush’s win in 2000. Ultimately, though, the whole process is in the complete control of state and county governments who process the information, and ACORN reps are just clerks or middle-men to facilitate voter registration for those who don’t want to wait in line at the DMV.

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