Also pubilshed at my web magazine, The Public Record.
In a replay of a tactic used to help secure President George W. Bush’s second term, Republicans – aided by investigative agencies of the federal government – are making a campaign issue out of voter-registration forms with fake names like “Mickey Mouse.”
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a grassroots group that has registered hundreds of thousands of new voters, is again the target of these Republican attacks despite federal guidelines discouraging voter-fraud investigations right before elections.
Trying to salvage his campaign, John McCain has jumped into the ACORN case, too, citing it at the third presidential debate. He declared 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."
However, the investigations launched against ACORN – now including the reported involvement of the FBI – have raised other concerns, especially that Republicans are flogging this issue in an effort to stir up anger, to revive McCain’s campaign, and to intimidate new voters.
For its part, ACORN has insisted that its own quality control flagged many of the suspicious registration forms before they were submitted to state officials and that state laws often require outside registration groups to submit all forms regardless of obvious problems.
Independent studies also have shown that phony registrations rarely result in illegally cast ballots because there are so many other safeguards built into the system.
For instance, from October 2002 to September 2005, a total of 70 people were convicted for federal election related crimes, according to figures compiled by the New York Times last year. Only 18 of those were for ineligible voting.
In recent years, federal prosecutors reached similar conclusions despite pressure from the Bush administration to lodge “election fraud” charges against ACORN and other groups seen as bringing more Democratic voters into the democratic process.
Some of the Bush administration prosecutors who refused to seek these indictments were then fired in 2006 as part of a purge of nine U.S. Attorneys deemed not “loyal Bushies.”
This “prosecutor-gate” scandal led to the resignations of several senior White House and Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. President Bush then asserted broad executive privilege to block testimony by Karl Rove and other top White House officials.
Yet, in the intense press coverage of the current ACORN flap, the major U.S. news media mostly has avoided reference to the “prosecutor-gate” case. Instead, the press focus has been on anecdotes like Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s name showing up on one registration form.
The U.S. press corps also has given little attention to the questionable decisions by state and federal investigators to highlight the ACORN probe in the weeks before a national election.
Federal investigative guidelines strongly discourage election-related probes before ballots are cast because of the likelihood that the inquiries will become politicized and might influence the election outcomes.
“In most cases, voters should not be interviewed, or other voter-related investigation done, until after the election is over,” according to the Justice Department’s guidelines for election offenses as revised in May 2007 during Gonzales’s tenure as Attorney General.