Virtually the entire mainstream electronic media drank ACORN Kool-Aid this month brewed up by the Republican National Committee. Almost no one seriously challenged John McCain's comical assertions that ACORN, a grassroots voter registration group, "is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."
While the Republicans had the distracted media searching for links between Obama and ACORN, RNC operatives were busily completing one of the most massive voter suppression and purging efforts in American history, stealing hundreds of thousands of Democratic votes across the embattled swing states and striving to arrange chaos and endless lines at the voting booths next week.
First the facts about ACORN. Months ago, we obtained, as part of our investigation for Rolling Stone magazine, the Republican's list the GOP alleged were the very worst cases of vote and registration fraud by ACORN and similar groups. We went through the names the GOP asserted were "obviously, undeniably and clearly fraudulent" voter registrations.
First, there was Melissa Tais, a dubious ACORN registrant. Her two voter registration forms show, admittedly, suspiciously different signatures. Republicans suggested Melissa was part of a massive fraud to allow Democrats to vote twice.
They were wrong. Ms. Tais, a Cerrillos, New Mexico, waitress, told us she had signed one form on a table and one form holding the paper in her hand. Hence, a second, wobbly signature.
Then there was Patricia White, who Republicans claimed was a fictitious voter. When we filmed her at home in Albuquerque, she seemed real enough.
And so on, through the entire GOP list -- not one fraud. And these were their best cases out of the five million "illegal voters" who Republican leaders claim have infiltrated America's voting rolls.
The overblown histrionics about ACORN do not surprise those of us who have been watching the RNC's election manipulation antics. For eight years White House operatives have been trying to gin up press stories about voter fraud. David Iglesias of New Mexico was one of seven U.S. Attorneys fired by the White House for their refusal to bring voter fraud prosecutions. "We took over 100 complaints," from the GOP, he told us, "We investigated for almost 2 years, I didn't find one prosecutable voter fraud case in the entire state of New Mexico."
Iglesias, a McCain supporter, has, for the first time, leveled a new and serious charge: Despite finding none of the 200 voters guilty, he says the White House nevertheless ordered him to illegally prosecute baseless cases against innocent citizens, just to gin up voter fraud publicity. His refusal, he says, cost him his job. "They were looking for politicized -- for improperly politicized US attorneys to file bogus voter fraud cases."
Certainly ACORN collected some bad signatures. But despite McCain's claims, now morphed into media theology, none of ACORN's actions will have any impact on any election. ACORN hired 13,000 canvassers to register new voters. A small number of these workers defrauded ACORN by handing in phony registration forms using names they had invented (e.g. Mickey Mouse), or copied from phone books. In one case ACORN canvassers used cigarettes to bribe a homeless man, now a Fox News regular, to register 17 times. None of these activities constituted voter fraud. It is no crime to register 17 times; only the final registration counts. His multiple registrations would not allow the tobacco lover to vote 17 times. Nor is there any evidence the phone book registrants will cast multiple ballots.
Finally, the removal by GOP officials of hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters from voting rolls over the past year provides ACORN with a sound rationale for obtaining new registrations, even from voters who believe they are already registered.
ACORN took pains to screen its registrations and cull out those it considered dubious. However, federal laws make it a felony for voter registration groups like ACORN to discard registrations even when it believes them fraudulent. So ACORN flagged the forms it considered doubtful and handed them in to the registry. Ironically, it was those flagged forms -- the fruits of ACORN's diligence -- that have been flogged by Republicans as their best evidence of widespread election fraud.
Voter fraud is a phantom according to Lorraine Minnite, an expert on voting crime at Columbia University. Only 24 cases of federal voter fraud have been uncovered between 2002 and 2005 despite massive government efforts devoted to uncovering evidence of a voter fraud crime wave.
The GOP is ginning up hysteria about non-existent vote fraud by Democrats in order to distract the press from its own campaign to disenfranchise millions of American voters.
The Republicans have created an obstacle course of barriers designed to suppress the vote, purge tens of thousands of Democratic voters from voting rolls, create mayhem and delay at voting venues on Election Day, and stop millions of votes from being counted this election cycle.
Jailed GOP activist Jack Abramoff and his fellow convict, Congressman Bob Ney, wrote the most sinister provisions of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) which Congress passed in 2002 creating a series of diabolically cunning new voting impediments. HAVA, for example, allows state voting officials to purge tens of thousands of voters from the polls using algorithms and voter ID requirements that disproportionately disenfranchise black, Hispanic and minority voters, and other Democratic demographics including senior citizens and young people.
In 2004, highly organized GOP tacticians helped disenfranchise no less than 2.7 million American voters. Almost a million of them were African Americans. The The Federal Elections Commission has found black voters were nine times more likely to have their votes discarded than white voters and that over one-third of the million provisional ballots cast in 2004 -- ballots handed disproportionately to African Americans -- were never counted but simply thrown into dumpsters.
In a technique known as "caging" RNC operatives send millions of first class letters to black voters across the country marked 'do not forward.' Republican operatives armed with lists then invade black precincts on Election Day to challenge those voters whose letters were returned to the RNC because the voter was not home when the mail arrived. That tactic deliberately targeted black students on vacation in August, homeless men and soldiers posted overseas. "Caging" is resurrecting Old Dixie's Jim Crow procedures designed to rid the lists of black voters and create long lines in black precincts.
In this election, new HAVA mandates permit voting officials to precisely match registration form information with the voter's driver's license and other government records. While it may sound reasonable, in practice, any change, even a dropped hyphen, is cause for eliminating the voter from the rolls. Since 2004, Colorado's Republican Secretaries of State have purged one out of every five voters from the rolls. The current Secretary of State, Mike Coffman, a Republican also running for office, recently purged an additional 37,000 voters and discarded 6,400 new voter registrations -- overwhelmingly Democratic -- based upon an obscure technical mistake that Coffman's office encouraged voters to make in the first place.
The GOP "anti-fraud" campaign resulted in one in nine New Mexico Democratic voters finding their names had disappeared from voter roles during this year's caucus.
Despite a recent Supreme Court decision upholding Ohio's refusal to disenfranchise 200,000 legitimate voters based on this absurd demand to "match" voter names to databases, White House operatives are still fighting to purge these names from the rolls. President George Bush last week personally asked his Attorney General Mike Mukasey to renew Republican efforts to disenfranchise these voters.
Contrary to Mr. McCain's assertions, the real threat to democracy is from the GOP itself. ACORN has served as a good distraction from Republican efforts to steal the vote from hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters, a genuine threat that has received almost no media attention.
They're stealing your vote, but you can steal it back. Here are some steps you should take to protect your vote. First, avoid the November 4th minefield. Voters, wherever possible, should vote early and in person. Where feasible, avoid mailing in your ballot, many are rejected for flimsy reasons, and first time voters in many states must include a photocopy of ID. However, if you have a mail-in ballot, don't throw it away. Follow directions, use the correct postage (that's an error that cost a hundred thousand votes last time) and, if possible, walk it in to your elections office.
At the polling station, should you find yourself one of the 2.7 million purged, or your ID rejected, then do your best to resist a "provisional" ballot--one third of which are not counted. Return with proper ID, or call 1-866-OUR VOTE for legal assistance. And never just walk away discouraged. That's just what they want you to do.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast are authors of an investigation of vote suppression in the current Rolling Stone, and a comic book voter guide, "Steal Back Your Vote," both available for download at StealBackYourVote.org.