Voter suppression vs. fraud


ACORN and the topic of vote fraud – actually voter registration fraud – have been in the news a lot lately. This is because of John McCain and other Republicans want you to crumple into the fetal position whenever you hear “ACORN.”

McCain said this during his 3rd debate with Barack Obama:

[ACORN] is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history … maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.

ACORN is a national organization that is dedicated to helping low-income families with health care and housing. They also spend resources on registering voters so they can participate in elections. My understanding is that they pay people money for registering a certain number of voters. ACORN is forced to hire desperate or unreliable people – the type of people who have all day to register voters (a.k.a. the unemployed) – who won’t blink if they have to make up some names to meet the ACORN quotas and get paid. If a registration form gets submitted that’s obviously false, the law in some states requires ACORN to submit the form to government anyways, but they often mark these fishy looking forms for government workers.

A few more points. I haven’t seen any evidence that ACORN is trying to submit a bunch of fraudulent registrations. It seems more like they are the victims of fraud on behalf of their workers. More importantly, there is no logical reason for ACORN to do this on purpose. Even if a fake name gets registered somewhere, there would need to be people out there willing to go vote under these fake names. How is ACORN going to afford to buy those votes? How are they going to make sure those people vote for the candidate of their choice?

The worst thing that can be said about ACORN, without at least some damning evidence, is that they are creating more headaches for government workers who have to sift through fraudulent registration forms.

To be clear, organized vote fraud, as opposed to registration fraud, would be worrying, but there’s no proof that’s happening (or happened in the recent past) either.

But the lack of evidence – or McCain’s own history of support for ACORN – won’t stop Republicans from beating the drums of voter fraud. Republicans want to suppress the vote. The people most likely to be newly registered voters, young people and minorities, are the very same people who predominantly vote for Democrats. So, if Republicans can lay the groundwork for legal claims against entire voting districts or make registration officials more likely to purge voters, it’s a tactical victory for them. Just yesterday there were reports on CNN of voters being “purged” from the rolls because of minor typographical errors and the like:

Berry is one of more than 50,000 registered Georgia voters who have been “flagged” because of a computer mismatch in their personal identification information. At least 4,500 of those people are having their citizenship questioned and the burden is on them to prove eligibility to vote.

Experts say lists of people with mismatches are often systematically cut, or “purged,” from voter rolls.

It’s a scenario that’s being repeated all across the country, with cases like Berry’s raising fears of potential vote suppression in crucial swing states.

And this isn’t a new phenomenon. We have a sad history of literacy tests and voting taxes designed to disenfranchise blacks after they were granted the right to vote in the 19th Century. So , while the new barriers that poor people and minorities have encounter at the polls are less blatant than before, they are no less insidious. But this is precisely what happens when major forces in electoral politics want less people to vote.

Flickr photo by magandafille

One Comment

  1. Ian

    This is another reason to vote early. That way if something is wrong you have time to figure it out. I don’t care what side you are on, go vote.