ACORN and voter fraud
Republicans, ACORN feud over suspicious voter cards
BY MARC CAPUTO
TALLAHASSEE -- Two suspicious Seminole County voter registration cards became a flash point Wednesday in the Republican effort to suggest the
community group ACORN is committing fraud in its historic Florida get-out-the vote efforts.
An ACORN spokesman said the group spotted what appeared to be forged registration cards weeks ago and fired a worker over them. Seminole's election
chief, Mike Ertel, said he was still "tremendously concerned," but stopped well short of calling the incident "fraud." The Republican National
Committee, though, levelled the accusation and blasted the housing and wage advocacy group in a nationwide conference call with reporters, saying this
wasn't an isolated incident.
In Orange County, ACORN staffers submitted multiple, duplicate registrations on behalf of six separate voters this summer. One individual had 21
duplicate applications. Election Supervisor Bill Cowles and his staff protested, noting in a June memo that ACORN had been submitting sloppy forms as
ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, changed procedures, disciplined some staffers and improved relations with Orange.
ACORN has signed up 135,000 new Florida voters since January in just three counties: Orange, Broward and Miami-Dade.
That's a fifth of all new voters. More than 58 percent are Democrats, who now outnumber Republicans by almost 500,000 voters -- providing Barack
Obama a potentially crucial edge in the neck-and-neck race in Florida.
ACORN's voter-registration drives have come under fire from Republicans for being sloppy and allegedly fraudulent in North Carolina, Michigan,
Missouri, New Mexico and Colorado, said Republican National Committee chief legal counsel Scott Cairncross.
Cairncross noted that ACORN in Washington state had to file an agreement with prosecutors to improve procedures after seven workers were charged with
criminal voter-registration fraud.
''This organization is not new to this game. They are a quasi-criminal Democrat-affiliated organization that harms the elections process,''
ACORN's Florida coordinator, Brian Kettenring, said the organization is non-partisan. He dismissed the attacks saying the Republicans are trying to
``reduce the size of the electorate.''
''What's criminal is the way the McCain campaign is drumming up lies and misrepresentation to try to suppress minority voter participation,''
Kettenring said. ``It's clear they are willing to use mistruths and exaggerations to try to create an atmosphere of chaos.''
Plus, he said, voter-registration problems don't equal vote fraud, such as someone showing up to the polls with a false I.D.
However, Secretary of State Kurt Browning, pointed out that unregistered voters could be signed up without their knowledge and then have absentee
ballots fraudulently cast on their behalf in rare cases. Browning said he had a good working relationship with ACORN when he was Pasco County's
elections chief until 2006.
ACORN is a massive nationwide association that made its presence felt in the 2004 elections when it signed up 212,000 people to vote in Florida, where
it now has 15,000 members.
Republicans said ACORN wasn't just working on the successful ballot initiative boosting the minimum wage in Florida -- it wanted to help Democrat
John Kerry. Kerry lost by about 381,000 votes. Since that election, ACORN says it has signed up 382,000 voters in Florida.
This year, ACORN's political action committee endorsed Obama, a former community organizer who had done work for ACORN.
''These are friends and allies of Barack Obama,'' said Republican spokesman Danny Diaz, who accused ACORN of ``undermining our election
The Obama campaign says it works separately from ACORN. It reports signing up about 100,000 new voters of its own since January.
'MIAMI-DADE COULD BE HUGE'
The registration drives have paid off in Miami-Dade for Democrats, where more than 63,000 Democrats have been registered compared to 12,138
Republicans and about 24,000 independents. That has increased the percentage of Democrats by nearly two full points, ---- to 44 percent ---- on the
Miami-Dade voter rolls.
''Miami-Dade could be huge for us,'' said Obama's campaign manager, Steve Schale. ``This is a numbers game, and having tens of thousands of more
votes makes us even more competitive in Florida.''
But the Republican Party of Florida has heard it all before: The big registration gains, the buzz, the anti-Bush talk. Yet the Republican presidential
candidate, except in 1996, has won every time in the past three decades.
Nationwide, ACORN has signed up 1.15 million new voters. And, as a result, mistakes can pop up, Kettenring said.
Kettenring said the group pays card-gatherers by the hour and requires them to get working phone numbers to spot-check registrations. Bad
card-gatherers and those who don't supply enough phone numbers for checking are fired, said Kettenring, who wouldn't divulge names. He said the
signers of cards are more often to blame for errors than the card gatherers.
THE SEMINOLE CASES
The card gatherer in one of the Seminole County cases was fired in August, Kettenring said, because the worker submitted too many cards without phone
In the other case, he said, ACORN warned the card gatherer to be more careful. Kettenring said ACORN contacted the woman listed on the card, Sacha
Thomas, who said she suspected her friend had signed her up. She wouldn't comment to The Miami Herald. The man listed on the other card, James
Stanley, couldn't be reached by The Herald.
Kettenring said ACORN can't destroy cards, even suspicious ones -- which it flags with a sheet labeling it ''problematic.'' He said that happened
in this case when the forms were submitted to Orange County, where the registrations were collected.
The paper-work was forwarded to Seminole County but the problematic-card note didn't make it. Orange County officials say they can't find the
problematic card sheets.
Orange's election supervisor, Cowles, who had complained in the past of ACORN's methods, said he now has a ''good working'' relationship with
ACORN, as did Miami-Dade's Lester Sola and Broward's Brenda Snipes. So far, no one has filed a complaint against ACORN with the state's
Seminole's election supervisor, Mike Ertel, had little bad to say about