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Are voter fraud fears overblown?

(Page 2 of 2)

In Indiana, Lake County officials stopped processing about 5,000 applications after the first 2,100 looked bogus. ACORN registrations in Nevada included the names of Dallas Cowboys football stars. And the secretary of state’s office in Nevada raided ACORN’s Las Vegas branch last week.

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In the affidavit, fired ACORN workers described fudging registrations out of laziness or because of the heat – not because of orders from above. ACORN leaders also appeared to be cooperating with Nevada officials.

The raid was undertaken because officials believed there were other phony registrations that workers weren’t catching, says Bob Walsh, spokesman for the Nevada secretary of state, a Democrat. But, he adds, “There’s a big difference – a quantum leap – between registration fraud and voter fraud.”

It’s difficult for one individual to cast many votes through fraudulent registration, and difficult to keep widespread collusion secret, say experts.

For one, federal law requires identification when signing up for absentee ballots by mail. Moreover, it’s risky to vote at the same polling station multiple times, and setting up fake registrations in different precincts is “an awful lot of effort,” says Doug Lewis, executive director of the National Association of State Election Directors.

That said, tests comparing different statewide voter databases have found people registering – and more rarely voting – in two states simultaneously, he says.

Voter rolls can be buggy. As many as 200,000 new registrants in Ohio show mismatches with records in other government databases, but the secretary of state there has resisted GOP lawsuits to purge the rolls, arguing many mismatches are likely typographical errors.

What particularly frustrates Mr. Lewis about duplicate and fraudulent registration cards is how they tie up election workers from processing legitimate applications before elections.

ACORN isn’t a monolithic group, says Lewis, and some offices seem better than others at curbing junk applications.

Every local branch has separate staffs for canvassing and quality control, explains Brian Mellor, senior counsel for Project Vote. Canvassers are paid $8 an hour and must sign a statement that lays out what constitutes fraud. Completed cards head to quality control staff, who try calling each registrant three times. Suspicious cards are given to a manager who confronts the canvassers.

Republican suspicions of ACORN deepened when it emerged that Barack Obama’s campaign paid the group through an intermediary for getting-out-the-vote operations during the primaries – then falsely reported the expenditure. The campaign has called it a clerical error.

Such involvement with a partisan campaign has raised eyebrows in Washington as the group has received US government funds and is presumed by some to be tax-exempt. However, Mr. Jackson with ACORN says his group is nonprofit but not tax-exempt.

“By not being tax-exempt, they are hiding their activity from the public, so it is a misnomer to call themselves a nonprofit organization,” says Mr. Lacy.