CNN's Drew Griffin took his network's Special Investigations Unit to
Lake County, IN yesterday in an attempt to document election
problems in the area. Did he discuss the active and legitimate voter
suppression campaign taking place there,
in which local Republicans are ...
CNN's Drew Griffin took his network's Special Investigations Unit to Lake County, IN yesterday in an attempt to document election problems in the area. Did he discuss the active and legitimate voter suppression campaign taking place there, in which local Republicans are blocking early voting in three Democratic leaning cities? Not at all. Instead, he focused on faulty registration cards submitted by the current bete noir of the conservative movement, the community organizing group ACORN. What's worse, his report (and most other media accounts) grossly misrepresented the intent and professionalism of ACORN's registration efforts. Watch it:
In the report, Ruthann Hoagland, a Republican member of the Lake Co. Board of Elections, tells Griffin that ACORN submitted 5,000 new registrations in the past two weeks. But during the verification process, employees found that about half were fraudulent, including multiple forms turned in with the same handwriting, one signed "Johns, Jimmy" using the address of a Jimmy John's sandwich shop in Crown Point, and others with the name of registrants that are now dead. Nationwide, registrar's offices have come across similar problems in recent days.
What Griffin fails to note, however, is that ACORN made very clear that some registrations they gathered from canvassers in Lake County may have been faulty. An ACORN spokesmen explained this in an October 7 press release:
ACORN flags and turns in three kinds of cards, those that it can verify, those that are incomplete, and those that it flags as problematic. It turns those in labeled in a special way and are very conservative in terms of what it flags as problematic. It has stacks of problematic cover sheets. [...]
The Lake County Board knew about the questionable registrations today because ACORN flagged them for the board. For example, the Jimmy John’s card is one that a caller had flagged and labeled as problematic. ACORN can get that caller to talk to the press.
According to Regina Harris, the Director of Registrations for Lake County, this claim checks out. "It's certainly true. They did have three batches separated." she told me this morning. "There was a pile they knew were good, there was some they said had missing info -- like no voter ID number or a missing birthday -- and another batch they called 'suspicious.' "
Why would ACORN submit registration forms it had deemed "suspicious"? Because under most state laws, voter registration organizations are required to turn in all the forms they receive. In a phone conversation today, ACORN press coordinator Charles Jackson confirmed that this is the case in Indiana.
So what explains all the faulty registration forms? There are two probable causes. One is that some registration forms can contain simple errors. That means the registrant didn't intend to subvert the election process, but rather just made an honest mistake.
The other scenario involves the canvassers themselves. If employees want to boost their performance in the eyes of their boss or simply don't want to do the work of finding legitimate new voters, they could turn in forged or faulty registration forms.* This is illegal and can wreak havoc on registrar's offices, but there's no evidence these imaginary people turn around and vote in November. Given Indiana's strict voter ID law, it would actually be next to impossible for anyone to cast a ballot under the name of a submarine sandwich chain or a dead person.
But these facts haven't stopped conservative critics and some in the media from incorrectly implying that ACORN's faulty registrations prove the organization is trying to forge votes and steal the election in November. An editorial in the Investor's Business Daily said, "[John] McCain would be wise to start preparing a challenge to voter registration rolls should he lose the race in a close contest." CNN even set up Griffin's segment with a graphic that read “Voter Fraud?"
What dynamic is at play here? It's the conflation of voter registration fraud -- the more common problem outlined above -- and "voter fraud," the unproven fetish of Karl Rove and his conservative cronies. By spending their energy and resources vilifying ACORN without providing the proper context, CNN and others are ignoring an actual threat to fair elections: systemic, illegal voter disenfranchisement.
*CORRECTION: This post originally stated that many ACORN canvassers are paid by a quota system. That is inaccurate. All ACORN canvassers are, in fact, paid by the hour.