Did you hear the one about the Dallas Cowboys starting lineup registering to vote in Las Vegas? Neither did the Dallas Cowboys until Nevada investigators raided the office of the state chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known to one and all as ACORN. It’s the stuff of black comedy. But right now few are laughing. ACORN is widely suspected as the maypole of massive voter-registration fraud around the nation for the purpose of producing Democratic victories in the presidential and congressional races. This unfolding scandal is commanding the close attention of the FBI and various state authorities. Longtime ACORN critics see actions in Nevada and elsewhere as happening none too soon. Supporters of the New Orleans-based nonprofit network, which include labor unions, are keeping mum.
Union Corruption Update more than once since January 2007 has documented cases of ACORN workers engaging or being implicated in election fraud. In Colorado, Missouri and Washington, ACORN volunteers have pleaded guilty to offenses committed during the 2004 or 2006 election cycles. Yet it may be worse – much worse – this time around, once law enforcement agents have fully combed through evidence. Adding to the drama is the close relationship between the Democratic candidate for president, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and ACORN organizers in Chicago. In 1995, as an attorney with Miner, Barnhill and Galland, Obama was on the legal team representing the U.S. Justice Department plus ACORN and several other left-of-center nonprofit groups in a suit against the State of Illinois for allegedly failing to implement the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, or “motor-voter” law. More immediately, the Obama campaign has acknowledged the accuracy of Federal Election Commission data showing the campaign paid an ACORN affiliate, Citizens Services, Inc., $832,598.29 during February 25-May 17 of this year to run get-out-the-vote drives in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Around $80,000 went directly to ACORN.
ACORN was founded in 1970 in Little Rock, Arkansas, as an offshoot of the National Welfare Rights Organization. For nearly 40 years it has led neighborhood organizing efforts in dozens of U.S. cities. The group, with a heavily black rank and file, often attaches a sense of racial entitlement to its egalitarian worldview, whether the issue at hand is mortgage lending, labor policy or public service provision. And members aren’t above using disruptive, even riotous tactics to achieve their goals. Pumping up the voter rolls by any means necessary is a logical extension of decades of operations. Documented irregularities in three battleground states show quite a few arrows pointing toward ACORN.
Nevada. Tuesday, October 7 was supposed to be a day of celebration for the Nevada chapter of ACORN. Members planned to hold a potluck dinner at its Las Vegas office after registering about 80,000 new voters. Unfortunately, there was a hitch. ACORN had hired nearly 60 canvassers from a state prison work-release program to do much of the work. These hourly workers submitted nearly 300 registration cards (and possibly many more) deemed suspect by the Nevada attorney general, who then shut down the program. These cards included nonexistent names and addresses, duplicate registrations, and names taken directly from telephone books and the Dallas Cowboys roster. Alerted investigators raided the Las Vegas office, carting away 20 boxes of documents and eight computer hard drives. The raid followed the formation of a task force in July by two Nevada state agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Nevada. “Now we begin the task of sifting through the material that was seized to determine how widespread any fraud might be,” said Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat.
Investigators have gotten a head start thanks to admissions by ex-ACORN employees. Several workers said that ACORN expected them to collect 20 completed forms per shift or risk probation and termination, an investigator noted in an affidavit. One former employee admitted she made up names on forms on days when it was too hot to work outside. Matthew Henderson, southwest regional director for ACORN, denounced the raid as “a stunt designed perhaps to make them look tough on voter fraud.” Henderson, revealing more than a little about his group’s covert motives, added that many voters registered through ACORN are “working people and people of color and there may be corners of the political world where a high injection of new voters like those is unsettling some.” This is the language of the hard Left (e.g., “people of color”), possessed of the notion that an even-handed enforcement of the law is “really” an attempt to disenfranchise racial minorities and the working poor. Attorney General Ross Miller’s spokesman, Bob Walsh, responded: “If this were a stunt I would put Ross out there with a shotgun…I’ll grant them their cooperation, though it is grossly dishonest not to bring up the felons in their official statements they released…At the end of the day, it is our job, not ACORN’s, to enforce election law and that is why we acted.” At least a few people in the state have some balls.
Ohio. Freddie Johnson didn’t expect to be at the center of national attention. Then again, it’s not every day that a 19-year-old kid working in a cell-phone kiosk in downtown Cleveland gets to register to vote 72 times. In an interview with the New York Post, Johnson admitted that ACORN activists in the city urged him to keep filing registration cards. He recalled: “The ACORN people are everywhere, looking to sign people up. I tell them I am already registered. The girl said, ‘You are?’ I say, ‘Yup,” and then say, ‘Can you just sign up again?” To get him motivated, it often took a small token of appreciation. “Sometimes, they come up and bribe me with a cigarette, or they’ll give me a dollar to sign up,” Johnson remarked. He might have gotten away with this, too, had he not used the same information on all cards; election officials are trained to spot and toss out duplicate registrations.
This suggests, scarily, that a whole bunch of hustlers, and not just in Cleveland, might be smart enough to use different names, and have done so. One Cleveland activist, Lateala Goins, admitted she put her name on multiple voter registrations, and then gave them to ACORN activists to put fake addresses on them. “You can tell them you’re registered as many times as you want – they do not care,” she said. Let’s be blunt: If lots of these people plan to “vote” – and it’s especially possible with absentee balloting – the entire presidential election may hinge on how quickly investigators can uncover ACORN fraud before Election Day.
Pennsylvania. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, ACORN has worked its voter registration magic. How bad are things? A retired Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Newman, recently admitted she is “not confident we can get a fair election” this November. Philadelphia may be notorious for corruption, but the problem is statewide, observed Pennsylvania Republican State Chairman Robert Gleason. In Delaware County (south suburban Philadelphia), for instance, Gleason provided copies of complaints from actual voters notified by the election board of their “new” registration. “I did not submit any application for voter registration,” wrote one voter. “While the spelling of my name and address is correct, the birth date and driver’s license number are incorrect.” Another wrote: “Please have the county investigate this. I feel my identity is being compromised.” As in Nevada, ACORN organizers are a motley crew. One of them was featured on the state’s “Megan’s Law” website as a child molester; other activists had prior convictions for forgery and giving false information to police.
There’s more. In Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Jr. and Police Superintendent Charles Moffatt have announced they are investigating activists from ACORN and other nonprofit groups. In Centre County, home to Penn State University, Justice Newman said there was a “massive effort” to fraudulently register students, focusing on multiple registrations. In Erie County, out-of-state college students have submitted “pending absentee ballot applications” so they could vote for president in Pennsylvania and elsewhere; the county director of elections has reported cases of identical handwriting on different applications. And in Dauphin County (Harrisburg), District Attorney Edward Marsico said that one ACORN worker is wanted for submitting more than 100 fraudulent forms.
It isn’t as if ACORN has overlooked Philadelphia. Gleason noted that during March 23-October 1 of this year, various groups, including ACORN, submitted 252,595 registration forms to the Philadelphia County Election Board, and of those, fully 57,435 were rejected for faulty information. “Most of these registrations,” Gleason said, “were submitted by ACORN, and rejected due to fake Social Security numbers, incorrect dates of birth, clearly fraudulent signatures, addresses that do not exist, and duplicate registrations. In one case, a man was registered to vote more than 15 times since the primary election.” To underscore the problem, the Philadelphia City Commission recently decided unanimously to turn over voter registration records to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
This is hardly a comprehensive litany of outrages. ACORN is now under investigation by authorities in at least half a dozen other states. That includes Missouri, site of massive ACORN-driven voter fraud in the 2006 U.S. Senate race. In the 2008 election cycle, officials examined hundreds of questionable or duplicate registration forms submitted prior to the end of October 8, the final registration day. Charlene Davis, co-director of the Jackson County (Kansas City) election board, confirmed that the phony forms came from ACORN. “We have identified about 100 duplicates, and probably 280 addresses that don’t exist, people who have driver’s license numbers that won’t verify or Social Security numbers that won’t verify,” she said. “Some have no address at all.” Meanwhile, up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the State Elections Enforcement Commission is investigating ACORN for allegedly registering a 7-year-old girl to vote.
ACORN top brass’s response seems to be: 1) deny involvement; and 2) impugn the motives of those suggesting there was involvement. Opponents have taken notice. Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz called ACORN a “quasi-criminal group” at a news conference. Interim ACORN chief organizer Bertha Lewis responded wildly: “It’s pretty shocking that anyone would say such a thing. It’s a lie, it’s irresponsible, and I’m really disappointed that they would say such a thing. What’s the meaning of ‘quasi-criminal’ anyway?” Actually, she owes her current job to a quasi-criminal. That would be ACORN founder Wade Rathke (in photo), who resigned from his longtime post as chief organizer in June. Rathke, by reliable accounts, had covered for his brother, Dale, in the latter’s unauthorized transfer of nearly $1 million nearly a decade ago from ACORN to a vendor, Citizens Consulting, Inc. In that case, by the way, ACORN’s board of directors hired Sidley Austin – Barack and Michelle Obama’s old law firm – for advice.
Facts are inconvenient things. And these particular facts aren’t going to disappear after Election Day. ACORN may march on the left side of the Democratic Party, but formal political affiliation is not the issue here. Election fraud undermines all of democracy. For the voting process to have credibility, universally agreed-upon rules have to be readily understood and practiced. And they have to be enforced. ACORN, put simply, doesn’t believe in consistency of rules, and that’s why it’s not practicing them. “It is very difficult to ascribe any other motive to the activities of ACORN other than to swamp the system with registration cards,” said RNC Chief Counsel Sean Cairncross. Likewise, it is very difficult at this point to avoid concluding that any organization not condemning ACORN fraud is supporting it. Those groups include Service Employees International Union Locals 100 and 880, which effectively are ACORN operations, and the Communications Workers of America and the United Auto Workers, co-founders of the ACORN-dominated Working Families Party. Are America’s labor leaders willing to risk their popularity by speaking unpleasant truths between now and November 4? Don’t count on it. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 8/22/08; Washington Post, 10/7/08, 10/14/08; Washington Times, 10/9/08; New York Post, 10/10/08; American Spectator, 10/10/08; other sources).