From Little ACORNS...

It's a mystery, though, how voter registration fraud might turn into actual voter fraud, despite Palin's dark hintings. Brad Friedman, writing in the Guardian, makes the point well and says the whole ACORN kerfuffle is a massive GOP hoax:

Here are the facts. Acorn verifies the legitimacy of every registration its canvassers collect. If they can't authenticate the registration, or it's incomplete or questionable in other ways, they flag that form as problematic ("fraudulent", "incomplete", et cetera). They then hand in all registration forms, even the problematic ones, to elections officials, as they are required to do by law. In almost every case where you've heard about fraud by Acorn, it's because Acorn itself notified officials about the fraud that's been perpetrated on them by rogue canvassers. Most officials who run to the media screaming "Acorn is committing fraud" know all of the above but don't bother to share those facts with the media they've run to. None of this is about voter fraud. None of it. Where any fraud has occurred, it's voter registration fraud and has resulted in exactly zero fraudulent votes.

You'll hear that Donald Duck, Mary Poppins, Dick Tracy, Mickey Mouse and (new this year) the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys football team have all had fraudulent registrations submitted in their names. That's true. And we know this, why? Because Acorn told officials about it when they followed the law and turned in those registrations, flagged as fraudulent.

What you won't hear is that federal law requires anybody who does not register to vote in person at the county office to show an ID when they go to vote the first time. So, unless Donald Duck shows up with his ID, he won't be voting this November. You needn't worry, no matter how much even John McCain himself cynically and dishonourably tries to mislead you.

Matt Yglesias adds:

... if you go out and register over a million voters you’ll wind up with a lot of bad forms being submitted. But just as 30,000 is a lot of people and also only a very small fraction of one million people, when you’re talking about registering over a million new voters you’d need orders of magnitude more bad forms to constitute real evidence of a systematic fraud campaign.

In short, there's no actual voter fraud going on here, despite the fevered fervor of the loyal Right and implied but unstated accusations from the McCain-Palin camp.

There does seem to be a problem, though, with a percentage of voter registrations being turned in to ACORN by paid workers trying to game their system, one that the group is well aware of and has encouraged prosecutions of workers on. But it also appears to be a systemic problem. The group has had workers found guilty in the past of exactly the same kind of fraud attempts, going back to the 2004 election cycle and beyond. ACORN appears to get no benefit from these fraud attempts, but then again it doesn't exactly lose either. Donors are going to keep giving ACORN money in any case and so there's no real incentive to amend practises.

It's exactly the same problem found in Western aid agencies in the Third World, where corruption, graft or just plain bad practises continue to be a problem year after year because no-one in a decision-making capacity with the agency feels any pain. We've seen the same problem recently in the financial sector with big-earning executives pocketbooks untouched by their own mismanagement. The solution, as always, is one only the group itself can implement - tighten hiring practises and rearrange the group's internal rules so that paid execs lose money when their workers try to pull a fast one. That'll give them an incentive to winnow out the fraudsters aggressively and at an early stage.

But if that's all the fire there is behind the smoke and mirrors show, why are the Republicans making so much of it? (And why haven't they aggressively sought their own voter registration drives if ACORN is so partisanly biased? The GOP still gladly accepts any Republican registrations ACORN turns in - you betcha!)

Well, one of the factors is that ACORN is just the kind of group Republicans love to target. The WSJ article linked above makes that plain in its third paragraph.

Acorn uses various affiliated groups to agitate for "a living wage," for "affordable housing," for "tax justice" and union and environmental goals, as well as against school choice and welfare reform.

Obviously in league with Satanic Forces, then.

It's a useful scapegoat for Republican culpability in the current financial meltdown too. ACORN has been called a "major contributor" to the crisis because of its advocacy for loans for minorities on easier terms. But while it's true that a bad loan is a bad loan no matter what color your skin is, and that the Reagan "ownership society" was always a scam to put your money into the financial sector's pockets that too many liberals fell into, the subprime crisis was mostly caused by lending houses working far beyond the guidelines even ACORN was happy with and ACORN tried to reign in such predatory lending. Nor did the group have anything to do with the creation of the"toxic debt" problem - leveraging securities at 30 or even 40 to one over their already dubious face value - which turned a big problem into a $500 trillion plus worldwide disaster. That was entirely down to conseravtive-pushed removal of legislation governing such transactions.

Then there's the smoke screen the ACORN narrative, properly hyped up, provides for accounts of Republican voting irregularities. As blogger "Hotflash" at Show Me Progress writes:

the biggest part of must be to distract the media from the voter disenfranchisement that the GOP is busy quietly instigating. The New York Times reports:

States have been trying to follow the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and remove the names of voters who should no longer be listed; but for every voter added to the rolls in the past two months in some states, election officials have removed two, a review of the records shows. The six swing states seem to be in violation of federal law in two ways. Michigan and Colorado are removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election, which is not allowed except when voters die, notify the authorities that they have moved out of state, or have been declared unfit to vote.

Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio seem to be improperly using Social Security data to verify registration applications for new voters. .......

In three states - Colorado, Louisiana and Michigan - the number of people purged from the election rolls since Aug. 1 far exceeds the number who may have died or relocated during that period.

If and when that voter disenfranchisement ever gets traction in the MSM, we can expect lots of he said/she said. "You sliced our voters off the rolls!"/"You turned in fake registration cards!" Republicans hope that press stenographers will shrug and imply that both sides have been guilty.

And finally, ACORN provides a convenient excuse for diehard Republicans who cannot understand why the country can't stand them and is moving en masse away from their failed ideology, while at the same time providing an excuse for legal challenges to vote results. Scott Limeaux notes that if this were not the case, there'd be an easy solution.

...if for some reason it was critically important for virtually every single name collected in mass voter registration drives to be accurate, there's an obvious solution in effect in many other liberal democracies: have professionals trained by the government be responsible for ensuring that citizens are registered. Of course, we're not going to here about that remedy from people frothing at the mouth about ACORN because the point isn't to make registration a perfect process, but rather to use inevitable errors as a pretext to suppress legitimate voters. Since the Supreme Court has declared that you can do this even if there's literally no evidence that anyone in the state has fraudulently voted based on an erroneous registration, this is going to get worse before it gets better.

From little ACORNS, a multitude of excuses and narratives can grow.

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