Three reasons why McCain inflated ACORN

Six Decades of GOP Vote-denying Efforts Must Finally Be Stopped

Three reasons why McCain inflated ACORN

into towering redwood of  voter fraud

By Roger Bybee

"If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election."–Michigan State Rep. John Papageorge, quoted by Asssociated Press, 7/21/04.

I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by  a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning  of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidaly goes up as the voting population goes down." –Radical Right leader Paul Weyrich, addressing 15,000 conservative ministers in Dallas in 1980.

 When John McCain thundered at the Oct. 15 presidential debate that the voter-registration group ACORN "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," it is difficult to believe that he did not have three pernicious motives in mind.

First, McCain surely intended to drive American citizens– one-third of whom are unregistered– away from signing up to register to vote Nov. 4 by suggesting that voter-registration drives were deceptive, sinister, and undemocratic. In a similar vein, a Virginia Republican leader captured headlines and stoked another set of fears by charging that voter registrars were using the drive in his state to both commit electoral fraud and engage in identity theft. It was not until the last paragraph of the Washington Post story that the reader learned that the accusation was based on a single case and that the voter registration group itself called authorities to seek action. (See my article in the upcoming issue of Extra!)

Second, McCain’s unusually forceful assertions serve to erode the legitimacy of a likely Obama victory. No matter how large the margin of victory if Obama wins, McCain has successfully planted a seed of doubt among millions of people that an Obama presidency was achieved only through fraudulent means and is hence illegitimate.. While the Republicans will not have majorities in either house from which to pursue new witch-hunts as they did against the last Democratic President Bill Clinton (E.g., Whitewater, Vincent Foster’s suicide, etc.), they enjoy ready access to a highly-developed and eager right-wing "echo machine" ranging from FOX News to the Wall Street Journal to Rush Limbaugh that will be useful in constantly questioning Obama’s legitimacy as president.




Third, McCain’s baseless comment about ACORN provided covering fire to deflect attention from the Republicans’ own ongoing efforts to prevent likely Democratic voters from exercising their right to cast a ballot. By aggressively projecting the Republicans own dirty tricks on to ACORN and the Obama campaign, McCain hoped to undermine the well-founded accusations that it is the Republican Party itself that has been working feverishly, election after election, and other methods to block the votes of many hundreds of thousands of voters. 

Six decades of voter suppression

Over the past six decades, the Republican Party has compiled a shameful record of anti-democratic activities aimed at intimidating, unfairly disqualifying, and driving away voters who fit into likely Democratic demographics, like African-Americans, Latinos, the poor, and elderly. Moreover, there is extensive evidence suggesting the Florida presidential election in 2000 and the Ohio election in 2004–both determined the election outcome and both were overseen by secretaries of state who also served as state Bush-Cheney co-chairs–were fraudulent.  

Yet the major media have barely probed this conduct either this year or in 2004, and have in fact characterized this pattern of profoundly anti-democratic activity by the Republicans as mere "hardball" politics. The major media shy away both from in-depth investigations and are particularly reticent to unearth scandals that implicate one political party and not the other. However strong the evidence, such journalism is perceived as hopelessly one-sided and "biased," and therefore unacceptable to major outlets.

Further, the commercial media have done a poor job of drawing the simple but immensely important distinction between "registration fraud" (typically involving a registration worker enrolling fake names as new registrants in order to boost their pay or meet the quote required to keep their job) and actual "voter fraud," which involves an individual voting under someone else’s name or when ineligible to vote.

This is not to gloss over the conduct of contemporary Democrats, who themselves have shown a curious unwillingness to challenge both illegitimate Republican voter-disenfranchisement strategies and highly-suspect computerized vote-counting equipment and procedures, apparently for fear of looking like "sore losers."  The Democrats’ responsibility to fight for a genuinely democratic electoral process has been sacrificed to the timid strategy of avoiding any short-term political risk.

    Moreover, the art of  disenfranchisement was perfected by the Democratic Party in the South during the Jim Crow era was the most infamous example of setting up barriers to voter that ranged from poll taxes to literacy tests to outright terror conducted by the Ku Klux Klan and others.

But over the last half-century, Republicans have replaced Southern Democrats as the force working hardest and most systematically to deny the franchise to voters who are likely to vote Democratic:

§         1958: GOP INITIATES ‘ CAGING In 1958 in Arizona, the Republicans launched a technique known as "caging": the Republicans send out thousands of first class letters to black voters marked ‘do not forward.’ The fact that many of the letters are not accepted by the recipients is interpreted by the Republicans as proof that the voters no longer reside at the address where they are registered. Based on this shaky premise, Republican operatives armed with lists then flood black precincts on Election Day, challenging the right to vote of citizens voters whose letters were returned to the Republican National Committee because the voter was not home when the mail arrived.

Most recently, as Robert F. Kennedy and Greg Palast document, this tactic deliberately targeted black students on vacation in August, homeless men and even soldiers posted overseas.  

§         REHNQUIST AND EAGLE EYE: In the early 1960′s, Future US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist participated in a Republican effort called Operation Eagle Eye in Phoenix, Arizona. Eagle Eye was an effort to intimidate elderly African-American and Latino voters at polling places and thereby create long waiting lines that would discourage other potential voters. Rehnquist would later deny his central role in Operation Eagle Eye during confirmation hearings where his testimony was directly contradicted by witnesses of his conduct, according to John Dean.

§         INTIMIDATION RESULKTS IN CONSENT DECREE: In 1981, New Jersey Republicans used armed police officers and threatening signs to drive away potential voters who were African-American. This culminated in a 1982 consent decree which specifically prohibits the Republican Party from engaging in activities to discourage voting by minorities. The decree is so sweeping that federal enforcement action does not require proof of the Republicans intent, but simply that "the RNC shall not engage in, and shall not assist or participate in, any ballot security program (including the method and timing of any challenges resulting from the program) has been determined by this court to comply with the provisions of the Consent Order and applicable law."

§         However, the Republicans have circumvented the consent decree by claiming that state Republican units of the party were not bound by it. Yet evidence of close collaboration of the RNC and the Ohio Republican Party surfaced during litigation over Republican caging operations in 2004.

The decree is still in force, but is widely overlooked by public officials and rarely raised by the major media despite the current battles over accusations of minority disenfranchisement via "caging" and other "ballot security" measures.

§         ELECTION THEFTCOMUTERIZED DISENFRANCHISEMENT:  The Republicans’ promises made in the consent decree agreement were forgotten during the 2000 presidential election in Florida, where the most decisive factor was not "hanging chards" but the disenfranchisement of 55,000 African-Americans in Florida who were incorrectly classified as "felons" and hence ineligible to vote. However, Secretary of State Katherine Harris was informed by the computer firm conducting the "scrubbing" that there was an error rate of over 90%. Nonetheless, she continued with the process, and some 55,000 blacks were wrongly disqualified, as BBC reporter Greg Palast outlines in his book The Best Money Democracy Can Buy.

§         The shameful 2000 election, determined by the dirty tricks of Harris and others in Florida, was followed up by a 2004 presidential election marked by The Ohio election was characterized by widespread violations of basic rules regarding voter registration and ballot security, secretive links between computer-machine companies and the Republican Party, and highly improbable voting pattern, as documented by Mark Crispin Miller in Fooled Again and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., among others.

§         MOTOR VOTER LAW NOT ENFORCED: State and federal agencies have shown a shocking level of resistance to implementing the 1993 "Motor Voter" law intended to raise voter registration. The National Voter Registration Act requires government agencies to offer Americans the chance to register, for example, when they apply for a new driver’s license or food stamps. Over the years, it has been repeatedly resisted by Republican governors, at first loudly and now very quietly. The most appalling apparent violation was the decision this year by VA director James Peake to ban non-partisan voter registration drives among veterans confined to VA hospitals. The effective denial of the right to vote to veterans–many of whom suffered disabling wounds and injuries due to service to their country.

THE FRAUD OF VOTER FRAUD: Since the Bush administration swept into office, Republicans have been preoccupied with the specter of widespread voter fraud as an explanation for any GOP losses. It’s an "article of religious faith that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections," declared Royal Masset, the former political director of the Republican Party of Texas (Houston Chronicle 7/17/07). Pressure to uncover and prosecute "voter fraud" was widely felt throughout the Justice Department, and resulted in the firings of some federal prosecutors like Republican David Iglesias of New Mexico.

Iglesias reported that hat he investigated more than 100 alleged cases and found none deserving prosecution. Iglesias’ findings are consistent with national data. Federal records "show that only 24 people were convicted or pleaded guilty to illegal voting between 2002 and 2005" (Project Vote, 3/6/07). A study by the Brennan Center for Justice concluded, "It’s more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls."

Still, the notion of voter fraud become a driving force among Republican legislators, with 25 states enacting voter identification laws, regardless of  the clearly disparate effect these rules would have on poor and elderly citizens who lack drivers’ licenses and lack easy access to transport to obtain IDs. A Wisconsin study showed that requiring a state issued ID like a driver’s license would have a highly disparate impact on African-Americans Latinos, and the elderly.  "Among black males between ages 18 and 24, 78% lacked a driver’s license," one study of Milwaukee found (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/15/05). 

Ignoring such evidence, the US Supreme Court in March upheld Indiana‘s highly restrictive new voter ID law which required that each voter present state-issued photo identification.  The ruling caused some immediate embarrassment when just days later, a group of elderly nuns in Indiana were denied the right to vote even though the poll worker knew them well. But the nuns–having limited mobility and no longer driving–lacked any state-issued photo ID.


Text Box:  By the standards of any other democracy, America‘s electoral stricture systematically discourages registration and voting. After refuting GOP charges of pervasive "voter fraud," the New York Times noted, "Republicans aren’t saying anything about another more serious voter-registration scandal: the fact that about one-third of eligible voters are not registered. The racial gaps are significant and particularly disturbing. According to a study by Project Vote, a voting-rights group, in 2006, 71 percent of eligible whites were registered, compared with 61 percent of blacks, 54 percent of Latinos and 49 percent of Asian-Americans."

Rather than working to broaden American democracy, the republicans have instead unveiled a number of innovative strategies aimed at voter disenfranchisement. To name just a few:


In a new comic book, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast have teamed up to tell voters how to ensure their votes will be counted. (Artwork: www.stealbackyourvote.org


The purging of a voter from the list of registered voters occurs if a voter’s name does not match a government database. At most risk for having their registration purged: new voters, people of color, low-income, elderly and swing state voters.

    Investigative reporter Greg Palast says that 40 percent of citizens who were purged from the voter rolls in California in 2006 had Islamic, Vietnamese, Chinese and Hispanic names, which were at most risk for misspellings.

These purges are typically justified on one provision of the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which was actually aimed at creating faster validation of voters’ eligibility by comparing government databases such as Social Security and driver’s license records. However, it turns out the slightest typographical error, the use of a nickname (e.g., like "Chuck" on one document and "Charles" on another, or a transposed letter or number will trigger a finding that the voter’s information does not match.

The Republicans have insisted that this provision–intended to speed up the voting process–should instead be interpreted to disqualify voters whose data does match up. Contrary to the law’s original intent, the Republicans argue that it means an improper voter registration. Florida is conducting its election on the basis of this faulty "no match, no vote" rule. In Wisconsin, Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen unsuccessfully sued the state to gain a list of mis-matches, apparently to set the stage for challenges.

Still, purges have been proceeding in six states although they are apparently illegal, the New York Times reported. "The screening or trimming of voter registration lists in the six states — Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina — could also result in problems at the polls on Election Day: people who have been removed from the rolls are likely to show up only to be challenged by political party officials or election workers, resulting in confusion, long lines and heated tempers."

The offering of provisional ballots to challenged voters, permitted in some states, is usually an empty gesture. "Some states allow such voters to cast provisional ballots. But they are often not counted because they require added verification," the Times noted.



2) VOTER ID: The new voter ID laws passed in half of the states, restricting the ability of the poor (including a large section of African-American, Latino and Native American citizens) and elderly to register and vote since they tend to lack state-issued identification.


3) THREATENING STUDENTS: Students at Virginia Tech, Prairie View A&M and other colleges have been told that they cannot vote in the university community where they now reside, but must cast ballots in their original home city. They have been threatened with the loss of student aid and other draconian punishments despite the fact that court rulings clearly establish their right to vote where they are studying.


4) MAKING VOTER REGISTRATION A HIGH-RISK ACTIVITY WHILE NEGLECTING OWN RESPONSIBILITY: In certain states, most notably Florida, Republican legislatures and governors have succeeded in passing high-risk rules for voter drives. The penalties for the slightest technical violation are so severe that many voluntary organizations shy away from risking substantial fines for minor errors. "Earlier this year, the League of Women Voters halted its registration drive in Florida after the state imposed onerous new requirements," The New York Times reported.


While states have made independent voter registration a risk, they have largely failed to use their agencies to follow the law in enrolling new voters. Under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, state agencies are required to offer registration forms to every citizen who comes into their offices.


The New York Times editorialized, "Some of these problems are no doubt the result of honest mistakes, but in far too many cases they appear to be driven by partisanship. While there are almost no examples in recent memory of serious fraud at the polls, Republicans have been pressing for sweeping voter purges in many states."


5) CUTBACKS  LENGTHEN LINES: Again in Florida, Republican legislators limited the number of polling places where early voting would be conducted. They also shortened from 12 to 8 hours the time such polling places would be open. The predictable result was long lines under the scorching Florida sun. "During the first presidential election since Gov. Jeb Bush signed the bill in 2005, the new law’s impact can be seen throughout South Florida: exhausting lines at polling sites in Miami-Dade and Broward that led voters to miss work, senior citizens to beg for chairs and voting advocates to question whether some are being disenfranchised, " McClatchy Newspapers reported.

After literally six decades of intensive efforts to shrink the pool of voters rather than to encourage the fullest expression of democracy, it should be eminently clear that the Republican Party’ is locked into a long-term strategy of voter disenfranchisement

The GOP’s embrace of this strategy will not be broken until two major developments occur. First, Congress must make broadening citizen involvement in elections a fundamental priority. It must clearly make voting the right of every citizen, and declare illegal all the artificial, excessive, and or illegal tactics used to discourage voting, with stringent penalties for violators. The Motor Voter Act requires state and federal agencies to offer registration assistance, and the Justice Dept. must act to see that this law is followed throughout the land. Reforms such as same-day registration–long practiced in Wisconsin and Minnesota have proven to be effective in raising voter turnout.

Second, the major media must not continue to evade their responsibility in a democracy to expose and denounce organized groups seeking to systematically deny the right to vote. This will require stepping outside the conventions of contemporary journalism where the commitment to "objectivity" and "public service" is met by simply reporting what each competing party had to say. It will thus mean investigating and describing the methods that the Republicans have been using to disenfranchise millions of voters.

Without the major commercial media exposing the Republicans’ tenacious commitment to disenfranchisement as a central part of their electoral strategy, there will be insufficient public outcry for Congress to firmly establish the right to vote and to prohibit the unethical, sleazy tactics that mar our democracy.


Valuable resources:

On-line guide to election fraud and theft efforts/Mother Jones On-line guide to election fraud and theft efforts/Mother Joneshttp://www.motherjones.com/news/outfront/2008/11/election-fraud-map.html

The Politics of Voter Fraud. Lorraine C. Minnite, Ph.D., Columbia University. Project VOTE, 2007. http://projectvote.org/index.php?id=355

Republican Ballot Security Programs: Vote Protection or Minority Voter Suppression-or Both?
Chandler Davidson, Tanya Dunlap, Gale Kenny, and Benjamin Wise. Project VOTE, September 2004. http://projectvote.org/index.php?id=355

The Driver License Status of the Voting Age Population in Wisconsin. John Pawasarat, Employment and Training Institute, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, June 2005

From Registration To Recounts, Chapter 6: Wisconsin’s Election Ecosystem, Progressive Reform and Decentralized Administration. The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, 2007

Wisconsin, 2004 (The Truth About Fraud). The Brennan Center For Justice at New York University School of Law, 2004

Greg Palast and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: "Steal Back Your Vote!"


"Caging Democracy: A Fifty Year-Hisotry of Partisan Challenges to Minority Voters" by Teresa James, JD.   Project VOTE


"War on Voting," Wiscopedia


Keeping Down the Black Vote : Race and the Demobilization of American Voters (The New Press) by Margaret Groarke, Lorraine C. Minnite, Frances Fox Piven, and Adam S. Cohen (forthcoming in March 2009)





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