Since when is signing up 1.3 million new voters a bad thing? The answer, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune's editorial board, is only when a left-leaning community-organizing group is at the helm. In an editorial published Saturday, the U-T predictably slammed the group ACORN for taking advantage of “a weakness in democracy” by turning in “likely… hundreds of thousands” of problematic voter-registration forms amid a nationwide voter-registration drive.
C'mon U-T—where are you getting “hundreds of thousands” from? Even John McCain, who's been hyper-focused on making ACORN a presidential-campaign bogeyman, puts the number of allegedly fraudulent forms only in the “thousands.”
The editorial suggests that ACORN attempted to overwhelm understaffed elections offices with the hope that some fraudulent voters will manage to cast fraudulent votes, potentially swinging the election in Barack Obama's favor (the U-T has endorsed McCain). Never mind that nearly half the states in the U.S. require voters to provide identification at the polls; the other half requires ID from newly registered voters whose registration card lacks a valid driver's license or Social Security number. Never mind that, of the more than 196 million votes cast between 2002 and 2006, only 52 people were found guilty of actual election fraud. Never mind that ACORN flagged most of the problematic registration cards before turning them over to elections officials.
What the editorial fails to mention is that most states require organizations holding voter-registration drives to turn in every single form that's filled out—even if it's obviously fraudulent—to prevent allegations of partisan tampering.
ACORN took the extra step to separate out forms that were incomplete or contained questionable information. For instance, the form listing “Jimmy John” in Gary, Ind., that CNN reporter Drew Griffin made so much of last week (Jimmy John's is actually a sandwich shop) had been red-flagged by ACORN when it was turned in to elections officials in August. Did ACORN hire people who took the easy way out? Yep. When you hire 13,000 people to do a job for $8 to $10 an hour, you're going to get bad apples. According to ACORN, the canvasser who signed up “Jimmy John” was fired back in August. Amy Schur, head organizer for California ACORN, told CityBeat that there have been no instances of anyone registered by ACORN trying to vote illegally.
Amid the mainstream media's focus on ACORN, a much more significant story's being ignored. On Oct. 8, a week before McCain alleged that ACORN “may be destroying the fabric of democracy,” The New York Times reported than tens of thousands of voters in a number of swing states had been removed from the rolls or blocked from registering—the result of 2002's Help America Vote Act.
Under HAVA, voter eligibility is first checked against state databases; if no record of the individual comes up—and only when no record comes up—the official can run a check through the federal Social Security database. The federal database is considered a last resort because it's less reliable than state databases. Still, in Nevada, for instance, elections officials ran checks on 740,000 newly registered and current voters using only the federal database; out of 740,000 checks, 96 percent were flagged largely because of data-entry errors. In Wisconsin, 95,000 voters had their birthdates incorrectly listed as Jan. 1, 1900, and in Ohio, the Republican Party unsuccessfully challenged the legitimacy of 200,000 new registrants whose information doesn't match up with state and federal databases—again, largely because of data-entry errors or address changes. The U-T has said that all 200,000 “appear to be bogus” and ACORN's responsible. How does it support that claim? As far as we know, no credible media have said that.
U-T editorial page editor Bob Kittle has, at times, displayed intelligence, but his partisanship impairs his critical-thinking skills. An effective commentary acknowledges the other side's arguments—it sets them up and knocks them down. What the U-T gave its readers was nothing more than disinformation in the service of the Republican Party.
One after another, we're seeing intellectual conservatives (Andrew Sullivan, George Will, Kathleen Parker, David Brooks, Peggy Noonan) question the McCain campaign's tactics. Sullivan, of The Atlantic Monthly, even said recently that the ACORN thing is just a way for the Republicans to delegitimize, rhetorically, an Obama victory. Indeed, there's a war going on among conservatives, with smart thinkers on one side and ideologues (including Kittle) who want to prey on simple minds on the other. We hope the intellectuals win—it would get us beyond all this ACORN, “Hussein” and Bill Ayers nonsense and raise the level of discourse.