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John Atlas

John Atlas

Posted: May 4, 2010 11:46 AM

Voter Fraud in California: Is ACORN at it Again? Or Is it Actually Republicans?

What's Your Reaction:

Rebecca Hyatt of Westminster, a student at Golden West College, remembers getting a letter in the mail saying she was a Democrat. "What the F*k," Hyatt thought.

Twenty-six-year-old Daniel of Santa Ana, who considers himself a Republican, was unaware he was registered to vote as a Democrat.

"Dang! I had no idea," he said when he was informed by a reporter for the California paper, the Orange County Register. "It's like someone hitting you from the back. It's blindsiding, you know?"

When he was signing up for classes and buying books at Santa Ana College a signature gatherer approached him. "He just told me it's something concerning the school... We need to get more money for the school," he said. "Something like that. That's why I signed it."

These two college students were among the dozens tricked into registering to vote as Republicans. On April 16, 2010 the Orange County Register reported the surprising news that it was ACORN activists who duped or coerced these students into registering to vote as a Republican by signature gatherers who initially asked them to sign petitions for causes like legalizing marijuana, fighting cancer or cleaning up beaches. The ACORN activists targeted students who were rushing to class or heading to their car or on their way to the store when a signature gatherer stopped them and asked if they'd like to sign a petition. Harried but wanting to help, they listened to the pitch, liked what they heard and signed -- and then watched as the petitioner produced more papers to fill out. Now suddenly faced with more to sign, they scribbled their information as fast as they could, many failing to notice that they were filling out a voter registration card.

This is a true story, except where I wrote Democrat it should read Republican, and visa versa. And ACORN in my report is really JSM, an Orange County-based signature-gathering firm hired by Republicans. Yes, the signature gatherers worked not for ACORN but for JSM.
My point is that Republicans are hypocrites and the mainstream media often tilts right. When Republican's engage in voter fraud, the LA Times, Washington Post and the New York Times and the rest of the MSM don't report it, and the US attorneys don't indict, and the Republican Party as well as the right wing blogosphere ditches the story. It also similar to Republicans blaming and indicting ACORN for the actions of a few, while the Tea Party is absolved by Gingrich et. al. of the "crimes" of a few, i.e., using racist and homophobic epithets etc.

Moreover, unlike Republicans, ACORN has never been convicted of voter registration fraud and there is no evidence that ACORN ever intentionally engaged in registration fraud. As Jerry Brown's press secretary Christine Gasparac said on April 1, 2010, after the Attorney General exonerated ACORN of any wrong doing in the state, "ACORN itself did not commit, counsel, or aid and abet registration violations. Some of the canvassers employed by ACORN and paid on per registration basis handed in phony registrations in order to make money and all were all caught and rejected by the Registrar."

On the other hand, Republicans have a long history of intentional voter fraud and intimidation.

For example, this is not the first time Republicans have been caught engaging in deceptive and fraudulent voter registration. In 2006, the Register found a similar fraud pattern in Orange County. That year 167 voters complained to election officials that they were switched to Republican registration without their permission. Sproul and Associates in 2004 trained its staff only to register Republican voters and destroyed any other registration cards. Mark Anthony Jacoby, owner of a for-profit group called Young Political Majors (YPM), pled guilty to voter registration fraud in Los Angeles in 2009. Jacoby and Young Political Majors were hired by the California Republican Party in 2008 to head their voter registration efforts in the state. Even a Republican, Congressman Chris Cannon, at a hearing of the House subcommittee on commercial and administrative law conceded, "The difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn't throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out."

No evidence has yet surfaced to show that the ACORN employees who submitted fraudulent registration forms intended to pave the way for illegal voting. Rather, canvassers were trying to get paid by ACORN for doing no work. In nine of the eleven states where ACORN's registration efforts were questioned, the law or voter-registration practice required ACORN to submit every voter-registration form, regardless of doubts about its authenticity. For any questionable form, ACORN's quality-control staff had attached a "problematic card report coversheet. As reported by McClatchy News Service the law gave ACORN no choice but to flag the form and turn it in or face a thousand-dollar fine. ACORN neither had a policy nor an intention to engage in voter-registration or any kind of fraud. ACORN had been victimized by a small percentage of it's 13,000 part time workers who turned in phony registration cards.

Since the 1960s, schemes to erode and undermine peoples right to vote became standard equipment in the Republican toolbox. Most recently, voter identification laws and purging voters from the rolls have become legal ways to eliminate likely Democratic voters in swing states.

Democrats have long sought to reform California's voter registration laws. The Democrat-controlled California State Legislature tried to outlaw the practice of offering bounties for voter registration cards, but Republicans in the Legislature -- and one in the governor's office -- have stood in its way. As reported in the Orange County Register: "Since the beginning of 2005, Democrats have introduced at least four bills to outlaw bounties for voter registration cards and/or petition signatures and of those not one received a single Republican vote approving it. At least twice bills outlawing bounties have made it out of the Legislature anyway, but both times Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed them."

The Register quotes Orange County Republican Party chairman echoing Acorn's claim that its few bad apples is no excuse to attack the whole organization: "...just because bad people abuse the system doesn't mean the system should be shut down. When fraud like this happened four years ago, signature gatherers were prosecuted. That's how the system should be kept in check, he said.

"If somebody robs a bank, you don't shut down the bank," he said. "You prosecute the bank robbers."

You will recall the Republicans and the right wing blogosphere had been ferociously attacking ACORN for its voter registration activities. And they have their eyes on Nevada, where ACORN is accused of paying canvassers to register voters during the 2008 presidential campaign. Under Nevada law, it is illegal to attach incentives to voter registration work.

But unlike the Republicans, paying voters per registration violated ACORN's Nevada policy. In Nevada, ACORN had an errant employee who violated their policy and was ordered to stop. ACORN set goals, not quotas, and did not automatically punished canvassers who didn't meet them. The Nevada indictments appear to be political grandstanding.

These facts won't stop the California wingnut, Congressman Darryl Issa, and the rest of the right wing echo chamber from accusing ACORN of being a criminal organization.You can be sure that if ACORN or one of its former employees gets convicted of violated Nevada's vague and probably unconstitutional law, Issa will be the first on to shout criminal organization! And worse, the Associate Press will print it.


John Atlas is the author of the new book SEEDS OF CHANGE.The Story of Acorn, America's Most Controversial Anti-Poverty Community Group. (Available at Amazon.com and Vanderbilt University Press.