A prominent voters registration group admitted today that it had fired some of its workers for falsifying voter registrations, but said that it had helped authorities to identify the phony voter cards and that its efforts shouldn't be tainted by the fraudulent activities of a few workers.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) has come under fire for submitting applications of dead people, the name of a fast food restaurant and the entire roster of the Dallas Cowboys football team.
The incidences of fraud in the ACORN registrations have become embroiled in presidential politics. The campaign of John McCain has tied the ACORN effort to Barack Obama, who once represented ACORN.
And because of the group's focus on minority or low income voters, Republicans have long connected the group's voter registration drives as benefiting Democrats.
"ACORN is tampering with America's most precious right. There has to be a full and complete investigation," McCain said during a campaign stop in Florida.
"Given the extensive relationship between Barack Obama and ACORN, our campaign also feels that Sen. Obama has a responsibility to rein in ACORN's efforts and to work aggressively against wide-scale voter fraud," the McCain campaign said in a statement today.
Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, told Rush Limbaugh on his radio show today that "this ACORN stuff is unconscionable."
Obama told reporters in Ohio that he is not connected to ACORN.
"First of all, my relationship to ACORN is pretty straightforward. It's probably 13 years ago when I was still practicing law, I represented ACORN and my partner in that representation was the U.S. Justice Department in having Illinois implement what was called the 'Motor Voter' law, to make sure that people could go to DMVs and drivers' license facilities to get registered," Obama said.
"There is an ACORN organization in Chicago," Obama said. "They have been active. As an elected official, I've had interactions with them. But they are not advising our campaign. We've got the best voter registration and turnout and volunteer operation in politics right now and we don't need ACORN's help."
ACORN held a news conference today to answer its critics.
Kevin Whelan, a spokesman for the nationwide group, admitted that in some states some of its workers had "decided to pad their hours" and had sent in duplicative or faulty registrations but that the "vast, vast majority" of its workers did a "great job."
"There is no evidence that these false registrations led to false attempts to cast a ballot," Whelan said.
Whelan said that ACORN tries to independently verify applications and that by state law "and good judgment" it turns over all its applications to election workers, even those it has flagged as potentially problematic.
Some of those registration cards have become the focus of fraud investigations in Nevada, Connecticut, Missouri and at least five other states. Election officials in Ohio and North Carolina also recently questioned the group's voter forms.
The group claims to have about 13,000 workers that have registered 1.3 million citizens to become voters in 2007 and 2008, but it could not immediately provide the number of workers it had fired in connection to the collection of faulty voter registration.
Election workers in Lake County, Ind., have turned up at least 2,000 registration cards they say are fraudulent and clog the system. John Curley, chairman of the Lake County Republicans, said ACORN "is bringing in massive amounts of registrations that are mostly phony."
One application was delivered in August and signed by a Jimmy Johns of 10839 Broadway. The application is signed and dated, but calls to the phone number listed on the application reveal that it is for a Jimmy Johns restaurant. A waiter at the restaurant said there was no Jimmy Johns at that address, adding, "It's a huge chain of restaurants."
Curley also provided an application for one Levy McIntosh of Gary, Ind. He said McIntosh is dead and provided a reporter with the death certificate on file with the same address listed on the voter application.
The date of birth on the two different forms varies by two years.
But ACORN and other voting registration groups fought back forcefully today.
"By raising the issue of voter fraud," said Miles Rapoport of the voting rights group Demos, "a serious disservice is being done to the election process itself."
Rapoport claims that Republicans are using the issue to "divert attention" from other voting issues such as untrained workers, absentee voting problems and machines that aren't working correctly.
The issue of voter fraud has long divided down party lines. Some claim that voter fraud is not at all a significant problem because there have been few convictions of voter impersonation.
Dan Tokaji, an election law expert at Moritz College of Law, said, "You'd have to be a complete idiot. It's high risk, low reward."
Tokaji says that voter fraud is "rare" and that Republicans are "trying to use the ACORN story" to raise fears of fraud and "make it more difficult for people to vote."
But Heather Heidelbaugh, a Republican lawyer based out of Pennsylvania, says that Democrats often limit the definition of voter fraud to voter impersonation. "The broader definition of voter fraud includes voter registration and absentee ballots."
"I don't think voter impersonation is a rampant problem," she said. "It would be very difficult to walk into a voting place and impersonate someone." But she says that it bothers her when people say voter fraud doesn't exist.
"I bristle when I hear that it doesn't exist," she said. "If ACORN or groups like them flood election division offices with thousands of fraudulent registrations, each one of them has to be checked and it means the chances are that a valid registration won't be processed because of time restraints. Therefore the legitimate voter would be denied the ability to vote."
ABC News' Jake Tapper and Teddy Davis contributed to this report.