ACORN, the “Voting Fraud” Fallout, and Semantics

Commentary by Joshua Kanary Community Organizer

For the 2008 election, ACORN did an admirable thing in trying to register as many people as possible. They way they accomplished their task I do not agree with, and I feel the end result of their efforts qualifies my statement enough. They paid people to go out and register as many voters as they could, but if these people did not return with a minimum number of registrants, they would not get paid. The result of this was people registering phony names in order to ensure a paycheck. Since then, people having been screaming “voter fraud” at any attempt to get people to participate in democracy. This irks me on two levels: not only was I erroneously accused of voter fraud for driving homeless people from the shelters to the Board of Elections, but also, the grammar buff in me must declare that on a true semantic level, technically no voter fraud occurred at all.

Trite as it may be, there is a big difference between voter fraud and voter registration fraud. Voter registration is set up specifically to stop voter fraud. I do not in any way condone the acts of ACORN, but what they did is a far cry from what some have labeled as “the unraveling of our democratic system.” Voter fraud occurs when someone actually casts more than one vote or casts a vote in the name of someone else. If people were actually casting fraudulent votes, then I could agree with the unraveling. However, the voter registration system we set up stopped the fraudulent registrations at the door.

In order to completely unravel the system, ACORN workers would have to do more than just make up fake news on a registration form. First, they would have to create a fake identity so Mickey Mouse was already in the system with a legitimate address, social security number, and birth date. Once in the system, the numerous checks against various government databases to make sure that the registrant is a real person would not throw up any red flags. After that happened, then you could successfully register Mickey Mouse and cast a mail-in ballot. That is legitimate voter fraud, not falsifying a registration form.

Once again, I am not defending ACORN’s actions. I am merely questioning the level of rhetoric used to describe their actions. The fact that such a large number of false registrations were caught and thrown out is a testament to the strength of our system, not a symbol of its weaknesses. Seriously, if someone is going to mastermind the voter fraud on a grand scale, they would make up an obviously fake name like Mickey Mouse, they’ll look up names in the phone book and forge utility bills in Microsoft Word. Oh, were you not aware of the gaping loophole in the Voter ID Requirements law? Were you not aware that in place of a picture ID you can provide a utility bill-a document a 10 year old with access to a library could forge? Who put that in there? Certainly not the Republicans that wrote it in order to protect our fragile democratic system.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue #86 in November 2008 Cleveland Ohio.