At Republican rallies across the country in the last few weeks, speakers have leveled charges of widespread voter fraud against Democrats. Most of these allegations focus on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a housing and voter registration group that has become a whipping boy for conservatives.
“His (Barack Obama’s) cronies at ACORN are neck-deep in investigations,” conservative former talk show host Mark Williams told a crowd at an “Our Country Deserves Better” rally at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Karl Geletich is executive director of Citizens for Constitutional Government, a 501c4 non-profit that does signature gathering and voter registration, with much of their work in the Central Valley. While he said his group is non-partisan, he described himself as a conservative—and he said he’s also trying to keep an eye on ACORN and their signature gatherers.
“Our organization does validity and antifraud work, so candidates and parties don’t have the same ACORN issues,” Geletich said.
GOP allegations of voter fraud against liberal groups has reached a fever pitch this season. But according to Nicole Winger, communications director with the California Secretary of State, they get calls about similar allegations each election. Democrats and liberal groups, meanwhile, frequently complain about voter disenfranchisement and intimidation by Republicans and their allies.
At press conference on Tuesday, state Democratic Party strategist Matt Reilly leveled similar charges at Republicans, saying “They’re working hard at their same old tricks.”
He was referring to several reports in San Bernardino County over voter “slamming,” in which people’s party registration was changed against their will–in this case from Democrat to Republican. The press conference at which Reilly appeared dealt with increasing the Democrats’ registration advantage in the state, including in several traditionally Republican areas.
But this season it has been on the Republican side where allegations of voter fraud have been central to the party’s message.
The California Republican Party has put out press releases with headlines like “The ACORN doesn’t fall too far from the tree” seeking to link Democratic nominee Barack Obama to ACORN from his community organizer days. Editorials attacking the group have appeared in conservative-leaning publications like the Wall Street Journal and Investor’s Business Daily. On Tuesday, US Senator Sam Cornyn (R-Texas) sent a letter to US Attorney General Michael Mukasey demanding an investigation into the group.
The conservative Employment Policies Institute (EPI) has even created a website, RottenAcorn, designed to catalog allegations against ACORN in numerous states. EPI, which is backed by the hospitality industry and other business groups, frequently fights against increases in the minimum wage and expansion of sick leave.
For their part, ACORN has denied wrongdoing, saying that any voter registration workers who turn in fraudulent cards are fired. The organization is under investigation in Nevada. As of press time, neither ACORN or the Employment Policies Institute had not returned calls seeking comment for this article.
Williams, with the Our Country Deserves Better anti-Obama tour, said that he has “butted heads with ACORN on both coasts” in his years of involvement in conservative causes. Speaking during a break in Wednesday’s rally—in which said Obama would lead the country towards “socialism” and turn it over to “fruitcakes” who are “occupying” the country—he called ACORN a “vile pressure group” and a “radical far Left group based in Brooklyn.” But even he said they are unlikely to be a factor in liberal California.
“In California, they’ve already got a critical mass,” Williams said.
Winger said that she’s seen the allegations in other states that members of ACORN had tried to register people under names like “Mickey Mouse” and “Tony Romo.” But what she hasn’t seen, she said, is any evidence that “Mickey Mouse actually made it onto the voter rolls.”
“With the safeguard and verification procedures we have in California, it would be nearly impossible for a fraudulent voter registration card to make it all the way through to the rolls,” Winger said. She added, “At the Secretary of State’s office,we are not aware of any substantiated voter registration fraud on a wide scale, as is being asserted in some other states.”
The Secretary has a Fraud division that looks into all allegations, she said, consisting of five law enforcement officers. Fraud such as putting as trying to register as a fictitious person is punishable by up to three years in state prison.
Even so, a kind of cloak-and-dagger game has been going on in California for years—and has probably intensified in the current election. Geletich said members of his group have made films and audio recordings of signature and registration gatherers they believed to be fraudulent. Some of these have been turned over the Secretary of State’s office, he said, though he knew of no successful investigations.
He remains suspicious of ACORN, which he said often goes out with the Democratic box “already checked” on their voter registration forms. As evidence, he said the group registers 85 percent Democrats. When asked if this was a reflection of the amount of work they do in poor, minority neighborhoods, Geletich said that as a 501c3 non-profit, they are required to explain all parties fairly.
“It depends on how the person explains it,” Geletich said. “I’ve worked down in Compton, South Central and Watts, and I can pull 50 Republican cards a day.”