Originally published 09:35 p.m., October 18, 2004, updated 12:00 a.m., October 19, 2004
Newspapers are reporting an incredible surge in new voter registrations this year. Democratic and Republican activists have sponsored registration drives in the hope that millions of new voters will elect John Kerry or George W. Bush president. Voter offices are swamped with thousands of last-minute registrations.
That makes the possibility of voter fraud very real. Increasingly, reports of fake and forged voter registration cards are surfacing across the nation, and they are prompting official investigations into voter drives. One group in particular has come under scrutiny. ACORN -- it stands for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- has received wide attention for claiming to have registered more than 1 million new voters nationwide. But in state after state, allegations are surfacing that ACORN activists are padding the registration books.
In Colorado, hundreds of voter registration forms are suspect. On Oct. 12, Denver television station KUSA reported that one woman admitted to forging three people's names on 40 registration forms to help her boyfriend earn an extra $50 from ACORN. According to the Associated Press, she also signed herself up to vote 25 times.
Police in Duluth, Minn., stopped a 19-year-old motorist for running a stop sign and discovered 300 voter registration cards in the trunk of his car. According an Oct. 8 article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the driver, an ex-ACORN employee, admitted the cards were there for weeks and months. ACORN says it paid the canvasser $1 per registration and fired him because it suspected he was registering voters twice to double his fee. The Associated Press reports that ACORN claims to have registered 36,000 new voters in Minnesota.
An Oct. 8 report in the Cincinnati Inquirer says Hamilton County officials subpoenaed 19 voter registration cards turned in by ACORN with similar handwriting and false addresses. In Columbus, Ohio, officials discovered dozens of faked names on voter cards and have indicted one ACORN worker. ACORN says it has registered 158,000 new voters in Ohio and 26,000 in Cincinnati/Hamilton County.
A Sept. 26 New York Times county-by-county analysis of heavily Democratic areas in Ohio (mainly low-income and minority neighborhoods) finds that new registrations since January are up by 250 percent compared to registrations during the same period in 2000. In Florida, the increase over 2000 is 60 percent in Democratic areas --compared to just 12 percent in heavily Republican areas.
In the battleground state of Florida, ACORN claims to have registered 212,000 voters for the general election. But one of them was the mayor of St. Petersburg who received a letter telling him he was ineligible to vote because his registration form was not turned in on time. Mayor Charles Schuh discovered someone from ACORN had fraudulently submitted his name, reports an Oct. 4 article in the St. Petersburg Times. The Palm Beach Post reported on Oct. 8 that ACORN is also under state and federal investigation in Miami-Dade County for unlawfully registering former felons to vote. (In New Orleans, ACORN registered 700 new voters at the jailhouse by signing up prisoners awaiting trial but not yet found guilty of a crime.) An ACORN worker registered a 13-year-old to vote in Albuquerque, N.M.
"There's a lot of fraud committed," said former ACORN Miami-Dade field director Mac Stuart in the Oct. 2 Florida Today. He charges that ACORN submitted thousands of invalid registration cards while failing to turn in cards from registered Republicans.
ACORN's principal activity is not voter registration. With some 150,000 dues-paying members organized into 65 city chapters, the group is better known for public disruption. For more than 30 years its "community organizing" has relied on in-your-face confrontation. In 1995, ACORN famously bused in 500 protesters to disrupt a Washington, D.C. speech by House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In 2002, it burst into the Heritage Foundation to harangue welfare-reform expert Robert Rector. Dozen of city councils and state legislatures have had to face angry ACORN protesters demanding higher minimum wages and more welfare entitlements. Banks have been pressured to change their lending practices or face ACORN charges of discrimination before regulators.
ACORN's founder and chief organizer is one Wade Rathke, a veteran activist who is also president of the New Orleans-based Local 100 of the Service Employees International Union. More importantly, Mr. Rathke is chairman of the board of the San Francisco-based Tides Center and a board member of its affiliated Tides Foundation, the left-wing grantmaker that specializes in helping new political advocacy groups get organized. Grants from the Heinz Endowments, whose chairman is Teresa Heinz Kerry, to and from the Tides organizations have been the subject of major news stories recently, which speculate on the impact Mrs. Heinz Kerry's private philanthropy will have on the policies of a Kerry administration. The Tides connection to ACORN raises even more questions.
Clearly, the 2000 election cliffhanger rankles leftist activists. It's no wonder they are determined to change the results in 2004. But will groups like ACORN play fair, and if they don't will they be caught in time?
Terrence Scanlon is president of the Capital Research Center, a non-profit philanthropic watchdog organization.
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