Imagine an election where one of the participants calls foul. Investigations are launched or at least called for. Prosecutors raise the specter of charges, the U.S. attorney and FBI get involved. No voter fraud is ever actually found. But by the time that conclusion is reached, the myth has been solidified both to soothe the loser's supporters and condemn the winner.
Sound familiar? Sound like the recent ACORN scandal?
Well, actually I'm talking about the 1960 election between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. That Nixon was cheated out of a win is the stuff of legend on the Right. The allegations say that Kennedy loyalists fixed the vote counts in Illinois and Texas--swinging 51 electoral votes and a majority in the Electoral College to Kennedy. In more hyperbolic versions there is alleged involvement by the mob, the Teamsters Union or legendary Chicago mayor Richard Daley.
The story goes on that Nixon, "for the good of the country," conceded honorably and exited the scene. No matter that Nixon was later chased out of the White House for cheating in an election. The myth endures.
This whole story--maybe to be replayed with Obama playing Kennedy and McCain playing Nixon--is a canard. It is a fable. A lie made up by the conservative movement to hold together their fraying coalition.
In 2008 the stakes are bigger than they've ever been before for conservatives and the canard is that much more important to them.
In the case of Obama the conservative movement is lining up a serious of story elements. They are:
• Obama was a community organizer.
• ACORN, a group that does community organizing, has committed voter fraud.
• Obama is from Chicago.
• You know what happens in elections in Chicago. Remember the 1960 election.
The story is half true and half lies. As we all know, Barack Obama is from Chicago and was a community organizer. Those are the only true parts of the conservative story. But the other two facts are myths: the 1960 election wasn't stolen (says the conclusion of recounts and investigations in 1960 and numerous academic studies since). And, ACORN has not committed voter fraud. Not one bit.
The facts about ACORN are worth getting out. ACORN is an organization that, among other things, registers low-income people to vote. One of the ways they do this is to hire door-to-door canvassers from the neighborhoods they are working in. This sort of work is tightly regulated. So, when one of the thousands of people they give jobs to doesn't do their work right and brings back bogus or phony voter registration cards, the law REQUIRES that ACORN turn the forms in to the voter registration office. The law, rightly, doesn't want anybody throwing out voter registration forms for any reason.
But ACORN goes a step farther. They have people assigned to do quality control on all the cards--calling people on the forms after they fill them out. When they find bad information on the cards they attach a cover sheet to the card but, as mentioned above, they turn in the cards as required by law. The effect is that a few bad canvassers or a poorly run office will mean that bad cards are submitted as part of the normal process. But ACORN has done everything possible to make sure voting officials know to check the forms.
The sad fact is that in at least one state--Nevada--the voting officials disregarded ACORN's cover sheets flagging the voter registration forms. That should have never happened. The resulting blowup was a scandal in search of a scandal.
The stunning con of this whole thing is the assumption that bad voter registration cards being submitted will lead to vote fraud. If somebody submits a card for Mickey Mouse it isn't like Mr. Mouse is going to show up to vote. There is no voter fraud if nobody votes.
But the big story here is what the Right is doing. Their attacks on ACORN open up the door for two things.
First, the ACORN myth allows the Republicans to do more purging of the voter rolls--the process of removing people from the voter rolls because of arbitrary anomalies in the voter registration databases. Richard L Hasen, author of the Election Law Blog and a distinguished law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles recently wrote, "Careless purging--driven by unsubstantiated fears about voter fraud--can lead to many eligible voters being incorrectly removed from the polls." Already in Ohio the Republican Party is pushing for more purging and they found a federal judge who agreed citing ACORN's activities.
Second, in the event that campaigning, purging and intimidating voters doesn't work, the Right is creating a myth like they did in 1960. They are creating the myth of a stolen election. Conservatives plan to claim that ACORN and Barack Obama stole the election. Their hope is to steal the legitimacy of what is looking like a massive repudiation of Bush, conservatives and the Republican Party. The Right plans to steal the election by trying to steal the legitimate defeat of them by progressive forces.
And why wouldn't they? The entire Republican coalition could be shattered with this election. White suburban voters who once voted Republican on tax issues are running away from Republicans on a host of issues--including taxes. Independent are looking more and more like Democratic voters. Barack Obama may even win a majority of male voters. All of them are joining with urban votes, voters of color, young people, working class union members and others to form a long-term governing majority for progressives--a progressive majority.
Conservatives are scared of a progressive majority. And they're going to lie, cheat and steal to prevent it from happening. But they can only be successful if we let them.
The best way to deflate the conservative fable is to win with an overwhelming landslide that guarantees there won't be a dispute of the results.
We also need to confront the Republican vote purging and suppression. Already big efforts by the Obama campaign, the DNC and independent groups are working on this. Progressives and Democrats are united in this effort.
But we also need to make sure the ACORN canard doesn't get to live in daylight. It is time to circle the wagons and make sure John McCain and the Right can't steal the election...even if we win.
For progressives, the ball is in our court.
UPDATE: Don't take my word for it. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an editorial on the topic. They write:
Here's what else you should know about these charges on ACORN's efforts in about 11 states.
The organization is obligated to turn in every registration card completed, even, as one spokesman put it, if it has the name Daffy Duck on it. The organization says it segregates and flags suspect cards to election authorities. It apparently doesn't catch all of them. But a vast conspiracy? We're doubtful. If a worker taking illegal shortcuts fakes a name on a registration card, that act overburdens election officials, but do we really think that the faked person will vote?
Voter registration fraud, when it occurs, is a serious matter, and it's obvious that even if ACORN is catching many, the number of bad registrations it is turning in points to quality control problems. However, most of the cards submitted, said Milwaukee's top election official, appear to be good.
If the past is prologue, much of this ballyhoo is really about those new voters and who they might vote for.
My point exactly.