It may be the case that the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — a group that seeks to register new low-income voters — is not a corrupt outfit bent on perverting the electoral process. It did, after all, flag and self-report many of the falsified voter registration forms that have found their way from ACORN offices into the hands of elections officials throughout the country to much publicity in the last month.
But it is certainly the case that quality control has yet to be adopted as a best practice in the voter registration industry. Consider just some of the most egregious of ACORN’s alleged indiscretions:
The Nevada Secretary of State is investigating the group after noticing that most members of the Dallas Cowboys suddenly “registered” to vote via the organization in the
A man in
Registration forms submitted by ACORN in
This is a mere sampling of the investigations underway against ACORN around the country. All reflect gross negligence and a complete failure on the part of ACORN’s managers to provide employees with even rudimentary training on the legalities of registration collecting.
Now, no doubt most of the 1.3 million registrations submitted by ACORN throughout the country are legitimate, just as most of the group’s workers are undoubtedly honest. ACORN’s apologists have seized upon this fact — an absence of “widespread” fraud — to stifle criticism of the group, while suggesting that anyone concerned about Mickey Mouse registering to vote — as he did on an ACORN-submitted form in Florida — is simply a partisan with designs on voter suppression.
ACORN defenders have further tried to downplay the controversy by drawing a distinction between voter registration fraud and voter fraud. The latter is a serious offense that subverts elections, the argument goes, while the former, absent any further fraud, isn’t harmful.
Overlooking the administrative costs a state incurs by having to filter out fraudulent registrations, they’re correct in a strictly pedantic sense. However, fraudulently registering to vote is a necessary precondition for fraudulently voting. And in the few states like
A person who does wish to commit voter fraud certainly won’t do it under the guise of Mickey Mouse or Tony Romo. They’ll do it with wholly unremarkable, yet fake, information. Such was the case with Darnell Nash, who is alleged to have repeatedly registered to vote with an address other than his own in
It would be wrong to assume that most fraudulent registrations lead to fraudulent votes. The risk-to-reward ratio is such that most people would not contemplate committing voter fraud. But Nash’s case demonstrates what is universally true: play with fire and you’ll get burned. Don’t adequately check fraudulent voter registrations and some percentage of them, even if very small, will lead to fraudulent votes. And let’s not forget that it would not have taken very many Darnell Nashs to sway the state of
ACORN does not have a monopoly on the bogus voter registration business. Here in
Last month, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen sued the state Government Accountability Board to enforce the provisions of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, which requires states to check new voter registrations against a statewide database as of Jan. 1, 2006. The GAB did not get its database up and running until Aug. 6 of this year, at which point it started doing the checks, but only for registrations submitted after Aug. 6.
The Community Voters Project worker charged Tuesday “collected” his signatures from June 4 to June 17 of this year. Luckily, they were caught without the aid of the database check mandated by HAVA. That’s no guarantee that other fraudulent registrations were necessarily weeded out.
Enforcing voting laws isn’t about suppressing anybody’s legitimate vote. It’s about suppressing the votes of people like “Melissa H.” of 5186 N. 48th St. in
5186 N. 48th St. doesn’t exist. Voter registration fraud, sadly, does.
Ryan Masse ([email protected]) is a second-year law student.