A nationwide voter registration drive that has registered some 1.3 million voters this year is facing new allegations of local canvasser fraud and complaints about its practices.
As citizens registered to vote in record-breaking numbers across the country this week, local election officials raised concerns about thousands of suspicious voter registration cards collected by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, commonly known as ACORN. The group, along with its partner Project Vote, operates one of the nation's largest voter registration drives focusing mostly on low-income African-Americans and Latinos.
The most recent allegations emerged yesterday after Nevada authorities raided the group's Las Vegas offices. Authorities are investigating reports of fake or duplicate voter registrations submitted by ACORN, including some using the names of Dallas Cowboys football players.
Investigators have alleged that ACORN hired 59 inmates on work release as canvassers. One inmate who had worked as a "team leader" for ACORN told investigators that "some of the canvassers hired by ACORN were 'lazy crackheads' who were not interested in working and just wanted money," according to the search warrant affidavit.
ACORN and Project Vote say they have been fully cooperating with investigators and called yesterday's raid a "stunt" designed to discredit the groups' work in registering more than 80,000 Nevadans. Mike Slater, the executive director for Project Vote, says the group regularly reported concerns about potentially fraudulent applications to county election officials who ignored the information for months.
Since June, local election officials in at least nine other states have reported problems with thousands of registrations submitted by ACORN's this election year, according to media reports.
Earlier in the week, election officials in Lake County, IN reported that nearly half of the 2,040 registrations submitted by ACORN on county's final day of registration were deemed "suspicious" because of missing or incorrect information or other irregularities.
Sally LaSota, the director of the Lake County elections board, said information on some of the registration cards appeared to have been copied from the telephone book. LaSota says her employees have also identified more than 100 cards with forged signatures.
"We don't know if any of these people are legitimate," said LaSota, who is concerned that many legitimate voters may be unable to vote due to the high volume of problematic registration dumped on their office at the very last minute.
On the campus of University of New Mexico, College Democrats sought to have ACORN kicked off campus after receiving "dismal" reports about the group practices according to the campus newspaper, Daily Lobo.
In Bernalillo County, which encompasses Albuquerque and UNM, election officials have reported 1,400 "problem cards," many of which were collected by ACORN, to local and federal law enforcement authorities. Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the county clerk, said that some of the irregularities included cards with addresses that did not exist and duplicate registrations for voters with inaccurate information.
Charles Jackson, a spokesperson for ACORN, said the number of problematic registrations were "relatively low" considering that 1.3 million voter registrations collected by the group this year. "You have these isolated incidents that people seem to amplify and make a bigger deal that it really is," said Jackson.
ACORN has touted its success in collecting nearly 3 million voter registrations since 2004, but the group's track record has been marred with allegations of voter registration fraud and the criminal prosecutions of employees caught tampering and falsifying registration cards.
Last year, King County prosecutors in Washington state brought felony charges against seven ACORN canvassers in what one official described as the worst case of voter registration fraud in the state's history. Some OF the workers pled guilty and went to jail, while the ACORN agreed to pay the county $25,000 and have its activities monitored by authorities as a part of a settlement.
Jackson added that the group has a policy of firing any employee it finds tampering with registrations, and referring those former employees for criminal prosecution.
ACORN's past problems and liberal leanings have made the group a frequent target of Republican attacks. "It is clear that ACORN is engaging in an effort to try and take away from our election system by submitting thousands of forms that are unusable on county clerks place the burden on them," said Republican National Committee spokesperson Danny Diaz in a conference call with reporters yesterday.
Diaz cited the recent incidents to accuse ACORN of perpetrating "systemic voter fraud."
Jackson says there is no evidence of ACORN registrations being used to cast fraudulent votes. "Our goal is to empower low-income people," said Jackson. "In no way, shape, or form do we want to tamper with the electoral process, we'd have nothing to gain from that."