Nationwide, early voting is underway but not without controversy and complaints of fraud, which were the subject of much attention in the past two presidential elections. In Ohio, one county has many votes on hold pending an investigation which is not expected to be completed before election day. A Republican fundraiser sued the Secretary of State's office calling for the investigation after it was found that two-thirds of the acknowledgment cards sent to 200,000 newly registered voters were returned as undeliverable. This indicated the voter information was incorrect and possibly fraudulent but Democrats in the state say the opposing party's motive is to interfere in the voting process for new voters who are excited about participating in this year's historic presidential race between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.
But allegations of fraud have been made in several other states and many of them surround voter registration efforts of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). In Louisiana, nine senators issued a letter of support for the FBI to investigate the non-profit organization "to determine if ACORN is engaging in organized voter fraud."- In Nevada, a former ACORN employee spoke with KTNV News and stated many of her co-workers used names out of phone books on registration forms and even though the group's policies forbid such tactics, Cindy Piccinetti said employees feared losing their jobs for not meeting the quota demanded by ACORN. Now the group is under fire after an investigation revealed dozens of their "canvassers"- were ex-felons, some still on parole.
In Pennsylvania, another former ACORN employee has been indicted on federal charges of voter registration fraud; accused of altering registration information and making up names and addresses to meet his quota. He was fired this past spring as a result of the scandal. ACORN also is underattack by McCain and his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin, who are accusing the group of massive and intentional voter fraud and link it to Obama with claims his campaign donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the group they say he has past ties to. ACORN is now on the defense, claiming that their critics are using misinformation in attempts to purge voter rolls of the 1.3 million voters they registered during their 2007-08 registration drives. The group targets youth, and low-income, "minority"- communities which largely vote Democratic and make up a high percentage of voters supporting Obama.
Dems and Repubs divided
Because of this, the controversy has further split the two major political parties with many Democrats angry that ACORN's efforts are being trashed and many Republicans calling for a full federal investigation into the group's voter registration practices.
ACORN representatives held an Oct. 14 news conference, televised from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and appeared with members of Common Cause and Demos, two voter rights groups which stand in solidarity. "The criticism of ACORN is a diversionary issue that should not be allowed to lead what is happening this year which is an extraordinary flowering of democracy,"- Miles Rapoport, Demos President, said. "ACORN is to be applauded, not criticized."-
In other responses, ACORN explained that the group never received money directly from Obama's camp but did receive $80,000 for voter registration efforts from another group which had received over $800,000 from the campaign. Obama spokespersons, in other media reports, explained that years ago the candidate, as a young lawyer, represented a case for ACORN's Chicago office but had no deeper connection than that.
Some are attempting to bring the controversy to life in Florida--the state which was plagued with massive allegations of voter fraud in the two most recent presidential elections. There has been one report of an ACORN employee submitting a fake registration which led to the worker being fired. Republican leaders are now on the march, calling for a deeper investigation but their efforts have been watered down by Republican Governor Charlie Crist's comment that his party may be exaggerating complaints about ACORN, a group he said has not been a problem in his state.
ACORN's head organizer in Florida, Brian Kettenring told WZVN News, "The McCain campaign and the [Republican National Committee] are attacking groups that empower minority voters."- This is occurring in addition to after-effects of a 2005 bill signed into law by then Governor Jeb Bush which limited election center hours to eight per day, instead of 12; and restricted the centers to be placed only in government buildings such as libraries, city halls or election headquarters. This created more inconvenience for many voters who, in the past, voted at community oriented locations. Now, some county sites open at 7:00am and therefore, must close at 3:00pm, a time when many are still at work.
Election results may be challenged as in 2000
The obstacles created by the new law may be part of the reason so many Floridians are turning out in record numbers to vote early and have been seen on national TV news reports waiting 2-5 hours in long lines. The Florida Democratic Party claims 153,000 votes were cast on the first day of early voting; 56% of them from Democrats. Some commentators are encouraged that those votes likely went to Obama while some others wonder whether a situation such as the 2000 Al Gore -v- George W. Bush election is about to replay itself.
That year brought many complaints from voters who felt they were wrongly turned away from polls or faced a long list of other irregularities, including those related to "hanging chads"- and other ballot problems. It all led to a call for a hand recount which resulted in G.W. Bush being declared the winner in the state, 22 days after the election. Gore was still not satisfied and continued to challenge the results and it was not until Dec. 13 that he conceded and acknowledged Bush as the election winner.
Should a similar scenario occur this year, Obama appears to be ready as reports state that Democratic attorney Charles Lichtman has organized 5000 lawyers to "monitor precincts, assist voters turned away and litigate any disputes that can't be resolved"- in Florida. He was part of the 2000 legal team involved with oversight of the hand recount.