ACORN defends itself

They say they don’t pay by the card, do have strong QA, turn in all registration cards because it’s required by law, and flag questionable cards when they’re turned in. If anyone on the other side has facts to contradict these claims, I’d like to hear them.

Marc Ambinder publishes ACORN’s statement about “voter registration fraud.” [Full text at the jump.]

1. ACORN doesn’t pay per registration, but per hour. There’s no incentive to pad the numbers.

2. ACORN does careful quality control and turns cases of fraud over to election officials and law enforcement.

3. In most states, once a voter registration card has been filled out, the collector is required by law to submit it to elections officials. [You can see where that law comes from: otherwise our GOP friends would just run phony registration drives and throw away Democratic applications.]

4. ACORN flags dubious registration forms, but some local registrars ignore the flags and then complain about the bad forms.

5. ACORN (as opposed to individual ACORN employees) has never been charged with voter fraud.

Now I’m in no position to evaluate these claims. But any journalist reporting on Republican claims of fraud by ACORN, and any blogger retailing those charges, has an ethical obligation to note ACORN’s responses and ask those making the charges why they aren’t satisfactory. If true, they seem perfectly satisfactory to me.

Note that it would be easy, and utterly in keeping with the Republican tradition of ratf*cking, for GOP operatives to register (or recruit others to register) in obviously phony names through ACORN, in order to discredit the organization. If you don’t believe they are able or willing to engage in such antics, can I interest you in a piece of Alsaskan transporation infrastructure?

If any Red blogger (Glenn Reynolds, for example) wants to defend the “voter fraud” fraud and the actual voter suppression efforts it is designed to cover, I’d be happy to go head-to-head on Bloggingheads.tv.

Update More here. Seems that although ACORN doesn’t literally pay by the card, it does enforce a quota and manage its projects by the numbers, which puts pressure on the street-level canvassers to make up cards to meet quota and their supervisors to turn a blind eye to violations. That is, ACORN’s voter-registration drives have exactly the same problem as No Child Left Behind or Countrywide Financial or any other numbers-driven management system: by measuring results, they build in incentives to cheat. It seems that ACORN needs to do some better QA on its recruitment practices, since some of the fraud artists on the ACORN payroll already had criminal records.

The story makes it clear that it was ACORN and its donors that were being defrauded, not the electoral system; no one actually tried to vote under those phony names.

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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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com