In the midst of the predictable partisan exaggerations, distortions and occasional lies that close election races generate, ACORN has become the focus of an extraordinary amount of attention over our voter-registration program. We submitted nearly 40,000 voter registration applications in San Diego and throughout California, and 1.3 million nationwide. In communities across the country, anxiety about the direction of our country, and more specifically our economy, is driving much of the interest in this year's presidential election. Voter turnout is expected to be of historic proportions. What is surprising is that these attacks, issued from partisan sources, have become relentless, and wildly exaggerated. We've even been accused by some Republicans of causing the global economic crisis.
The truth, plain and simple, is that no illegal votes will be cast as a consequence of ACORN's voter-registration program. In fact, illegal votes constitute fewer than 1 out of a million votes cast, and no illegal vote has ever been tied to ACORN, in spite of the almost 2 million registrations we submitted in 2004 and 2006. The small percentage of problematic cards that we have submitted to local election boards in 2008 -- and that we are required by law to submit, even cards that we can plainly see are invalid -- will not result in any illegal voting, contrary to over-the-top partisan claims. The irony in these attacks is that our registration drive and get-out-the-vote program is nonpartisan.
Why has ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now ) become such a prominent talking point, sound bite and rallying cry? The answer, of course, is to win the upcoming election. What's troubling here is that a strategy to win can also include a strategy to suppress votes through tactics such as illegal purges of voter rolls, intimidation of voters at polling places and voter caging (a form of vote suppression that involves direct mail and challenging voter status).
Sen. John McCain (who as recently as 2006 attended ACORN events and supported some of ACORN's activities) suggested in the final presidential debate that ACORN poses a threat to "the fabric of our democracy," as if problems with some registration cards -- almost all of which ACORN pointed out to election boards - rise to the same level of danger to our way of life as do the economic crisis or threats from sworn enemies abroad. Eighteen months ago, when our voter-registration drive began, his claim would be laughable, but in the context of a close election and a shameful history in our country of disenfranchising poor people and people of color, including dirty partisan tricks aimed directly at impoverished communities of color in the past two presidential elections, there is nothing funny about it.
The history and hypocrisy is coming to light. On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Republican Party hired a firm (for $12 per voter registered as Republican). Their "Republican" program resorted to despicable tactics, such as getting people to register as Republicans by telling them they were signing a petition for tougher penalties against child molesters.
We all need to watch out that overblown charges against ACORN don't divert attention from or serve as a justification for unethical and illegal conduct in this election by those who are attacking ACORN. As for the impact on ACORN itself, exaggerated and false claims are not without consequence, as evidenced by a torrent of hate mail and phone calls to our offices, including death threats against our staff, and breaks-ins last week at our Boston and Seattle offices.
Enough is enough.
ACORN will keep working to reduce the incidence of voter-registration cards with problems. For those who make much of the fact that one of our canvassers registered "Mickey Mouse," we have great confidence in the ability of our election boards to ensure that neither "Mickey Mouse" nor any other illegal voter casts a ballot in this election.
The real issue is the 64 million Americans who will not be eligible to vote this November -- the worst citizen-participation rate of any Western democracy. Our work to reduce barriers to voting and to encourage participation in democracy is essential to reweaving "the fabric of our democracy." Ugly, cynical and partisan attempts to cast a shadow on this historic opportunity to reverse the disparities in the American electorate only create further divisions in our communities.
The citizens ACORN has helped register this year are very real. Many of them will be coming out to vote next month. McCain should welcome these voters to our democracy and campaign for their support.
We at ACORN intend to be vigilant in our efforts to ensure that every single American who should vote gets to vote. ACORN will be out in our communities on election day, walking people to the polls, and helping to make sure that everyone's vote -- and voice -- is heard.