Crying wolf?

Our view: ACORN's critics across the country accuse the group's workers of voter fraud, but the claims have the taint of hardball politics

October 13, 2008

Voter fraud is a serious issue, especially in an election expected to be as close as the presidential race in November, when the outcome may be decided by narrow margins in a handful of battleground states. But charges that the community group ACORN is committing widespread electoral fraud by flooding state elections boards with phony voter registration card applications sound more like partisan sniping than legitimate complaints aimed at protecting ballot box integrity.

A story in last week's Miami Herald named seven states (Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Colorado and Washington) where Republicans have charged the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now with massive "voter fraud" for turning in dozens of duplicates and cards with incomplete information - even though the law in most states requires groups that sign up new voters to submit all the forms they collect, including any duplicates or mistakes. Nevada prosecutors are investigating similar claims.

ACORN says it weeds out problematic cards and flags them for elections officials. Yet some Republicans sound as if they discovered this alleged fraud, when in many cases ACORN's staffers were simply obeying the law by turning over every application card they received. Last year, ACORN paid a fine to Washington state and agreed to change its procedures after some workers were charged with fraud. But so far this year, no alleged frauds have resulted in criminal charges.

ACORN is conducting a huge get-out-the-vote campaign in Florida that has registered 135,000 voters since January. That's a fifth of all new voters in the state, according to the Miami newspaper, and 68 percent of them are Democrats, who now outnumber Republicans by nearly half a million.

ACORN says it's registered 1.3 million voters nationwide. Any operation that big is bound to produce errors, but the irregularities cited by GOP critics are minuscule compared with the number of valid applications. ACORN hasn't been charged with violating any law, and it says it has fired workers caught trying to game the system with forged or fraudulent documents.

Real voter fraud - the intentional corruption of the electoral process by a voter - happens at the polls, not when new voters try to register. So far, ACORN's accusers haven't come up with convincing evidence to back up their charges.

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