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Posted by on Oct 21, 2008 in Politics | 7 comments

GOP Conference Call on ACORN

Today I took part in a conference call with RNC Chief Counsel Sean Cairncross and RNC Communications Director Danny Diaz regarding questions about voter registration efforts and fraud accusations centering on ACORN. (I don’t have a link yet to a replay from but will update this post later when it becomes available.) Normally I would transcribe individual questions, but in this case I would just like to give a brief summary of topics and some of my general impressions. A number of prominent bloggers asked questions from both sides of the aisle, along with yours truly.

I posed the question of what we should do in the long run. Does ACORN represent a persistent problem which should spur us to outlaw third party voter registration on a national level? I found some portions of Mr. Diaz’s answer satisfying, but others lacking. Both parties engage in both voter registration efforts and GOTV activity across the nation, and personally I think this is a good thing. ACORN, I’m sorry to say, has simply brought up too many issues of fraud to ignore. But do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Or do we continue to prosecute individual workers who knowingly break the law but support the organization’s efforts in general?

Other bloggers questioned specific instances of alleged fraud on the part of ACORN in various states, as well as one Republican group in California accused of similar scurrilous activities. I’m left with more questions than answers, personally. ACORN has employed convicted criminals still serving their time in halfway houses and gotten predictable results. We can, in my opinion, treat this group like any other employer who takes insufficient care in their hiring practices. I admire the goals of ACORN in giving opportunities to the less-fortunate, but at the same time you can not always entrust such an important task to those with proven track records of mendacity.

What say you, readers? Should we ban all third party registration and leave it to voters to make the effort to register themselves? Or is the work of such groups too important to put aside and we are left needing more vigorous law enforcement efforts in monitoring them? Should registration be the default mode for all Americans and leave us to focus on rooting out those who are disqualified? Hard questions which require answers, to be sure.

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  • jdave

    My gut feel is that ACORN needs to be punished badly.

  • mikkel

    Or you could read summaries such as this one or read the several studies by both Republican and Democratic panels that concluded that actual voter fraud as a result of attempted registration fraud is very minimal and Attys that have looked into the issue feel it is just a political stunt.

    That said, I think that everyone should be automatically enrolled and I don’t understand why they aren’t. Of course I feel that voting in Federal elections should have uniform standards across all states.

  • JSpencer

    Frankly, I’d rather have a few dead people and cartoon characters voting than I would have large groups of voters disenfranchised, or for that matter have elections decided by the US Supreme Ct. Then there is always the thought that if people aren’t sufficiently motivated to vote on their own then maybe they aren’t sufficiently motivated enough to vote in an informed way either. Then too maybe automatic enrollment is the obvious course. What to do, what to do…

  • TheFrequentPoster

    I’ve read this site from time to time and have been generally impressed that it’s operated in good faith, as opposed to being a propaganda vehicle. So I will respond in kind. I think people of good will could get this solved within an afternoon simply by outlawing the use of paid signature gatherers.

    I was one of them, by the way. In 1978, when I was 20 years old, I gathered signatures on petitions to put Libertarian Party candidate Ed Clark on the California gubernatorial ballot. I was paid 25 cents a signature. It didn’t even occur to me to forge signatures until much later in life, when I idly told myself that I had been a fool not to just sit down with a phone book.

    But I did it honestly, and that summer I got to know San Francisco at street level. I quickly divided people into four categories. There were the homeless and non-English speakers, who made up one-half of the population. They wouldn’t sign because they were either too incoherent or couldn’t understand you. Another 25% were businessmen in suits. They always wanted more information, so forget about them.

    The other one-quarter was actually a mixture, and it was where I got all my quarters. At lunch time, I’d go to Macarthur Park and look for secretaries on their lunch breaks. They signed out of sweetness and pity. As the afternoon wore on, I’d head to Polk Street and then Castro Street, the gay neighborhoods. Gay people would sign anything.

    It probably did hurt that I was 20 years old and had spent the previous couple of months laboring on a farm. I was buffed, and I wore a cowboy hat. Got more than a few phone numbers next to the addresses.

    I think times have changed to some degree. For one thing, the rates have gone up. But also, I don’t think there’s a big surplus of honest, 20-something signature gatherers out there. And if any of these things are going to be genuine, why not require signature gatherers to be volunteers? It would certainly raise the bar for these signature drives, but it would also reduce the ability of this or that moneyed interestt to manipulate the initiative process.

    And most importantly, in the context of Acorn’s registration problems, it would eliminate the incentive to commit fraud. The way to insure good behavior is often to reward it, and the way to prevent bad behavior can be as simple as withdrawing the reward for it. I think this is one of those cases.

    One more thing needs to be said. In Acorn’s case, these are fraudulent registrations, most or all of which were flagged by Acorn itself. They are being penalized for exercising quality control according to the current system’s rules. I think the crocodile tears from the Republicans are overdone, and quite frankly I am wondering whether they are making such a big deal out of it to cover far more serious attempts to keep real votes from being cast and counted.

    If people want to fix the system, rather than insure partisan argument and game playing, I don’t think there is a whole lot of rocket science involved. Have a uniform election system from sea to shining sea. Same form of ballot, same options, same type of machine, same voting hours, same voting options. We could easily require this for federal elections, anyway, and I think that would certainly wind up trickling down to the rest of them.

    I think the system to study is in Washington State, where half the votes are cast by mail and the other half at polling places. I live in Seattle and vote by mail, and it works very well. I’ve lived in a bunch of other places, and voting here is far easier and more efficient than in any other place I’ve lived.

    To WA’s system, I’d add the option of voting via touch-tone telephone, but with a requirement to mail in a signature card if that option was chosen. The telephone system, unlike the internet, is highly secure and stable, and most people are very familiar with automated voice prompt technology. Give people the option of voting at the polling place, by mail, or by phone, and include some other features like a paper trail for every vote, and a ban on paid signature gathering, and I think we’d have a much more secure and efficient system, and much greater voter participation.

    But then, this would make too much sense, and it would deprive self-interested actors the ability to play games and start procedural arguments. And it wouldn’t cost as much as those unreliable, uncheckable touch-screen machines, which means not as much profit for the suppliers. Therefore, I doubt my ideas will ever be seriously considered by anyone.

  • TheFrequentPoster

    Misprint up there: “It probably DIDN’T hurt that I was 20 years old,” etc.

  • I would tie it to social security numbers. Sure there is fraud in that system, too, but then you could weed out both at the same time instead of having two lists. SS#’s are linked with birthdates, so people could be moved to the voter rolls when they come of age. (SS#’s used to be assigned to internation students here on visas but not anymore.) Doing it that way could also make change of addresses easier, though I’d have to think that through.

    Regarding ACORN — that it comes up every two years tells me that it’s just a political stunt. Some rightwing bloggers don’t even seem to remember that it does come up with such regularity.

    Of course, there is always the Australian solution — fine people for NOT voting. . .

  • denisedh

    I have lived in several states, a couple with motor-voter where you get registered when you get your driver’s license. Now I live in Wyoming where you can register at the county clerk’s office or at the polls on election day. If you don’t miss an election, you stay on the rolls in your precinct. My county doesn’t issue voter registration cards.

    I have also worked as an election judge here and I wondered if the election day registration would cause problems such as long lines, lots of provisional ballots, etc. It didn’t. It seems to work well here and the easy access to voting doesn’t make us appealing to voter registration drives. Wyoming also has one of the higher voting participation rates in the country. As I said, I was skeptical about the system here, but it works well.

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