Media revive pattern of reporting on alleged “voter fraud” concerns, despite lack of evidence
By Eric Boehlert and Jamison Foser / October 16, 2008
See ‘Evidence points to ACORN’s sloppiness, but not fraud’ by Greg Gordon, Below.
In recent weeks, media outlets have revived the cyclical practice of highlighting allegations by conservatives of voter fraud. In this election cycle, the primary target of those allegations appears to be the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), over reports that some people hired by ACORN have submitted false or redundant registration forms. Once again, the media are devoting great attention to these charges, even though in past election cycles, charges of voter fraud have largely proven baseless.
Indeed, according to the Nexis news database, in the period October 6-15, the phrase “voter fraud” has appeared in 221 articles in U.S. newspapers, including five Washington Post articles, two New York Times articles, and one USA Today article. Moreover, “voter fraud” has appeared in 43 CNN news transcripts, 31 Fox News transcripts, and four MSNBC transcripts during that time. For example, The Washington Post reported on October 14 that “Republican officials and advisers to Sen. John McCain” accused ACORN of “fomenting voter fraud.” It also reported that “[t]he charges have come repeatedly, in news releases, conference calls to reporters and remarks on the campaign trail. Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz called ACORN a ‘quasi-criminal group’ last week during one of a series of news conferences, charging that the group was committing fraud during its voter-registration drives. ‘We don’t do that lightly,’ RNC chief counsel Sean Cairncross said.”
The media’s focus on these charges just before elections is not new. A Media Matters for America search of Nexis indicates that numerous stories about voter fraud appeared in major newspapers and on television news in the weeks leading up to the 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006 elections. Yet the U.S. Department of Justice crime statistics cast doubt on the existence of widespread voter fraud. On April 12, 2007, The New York Times reported, “Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.”
In an April 1 American Prospect article, U.S. News & World Report and Washington Monthly contributing editor Art Levine wrote:
Using various tactics — including media smears, bogus lawsuits, restrictive new voting laws and policies, and flimsy prosecutions — Republican operatives, election officials, and the GOP-controlled Justice Department have limited voting access and gone after voter-registration groups such as ACORN. Which should come as no surprise: In building support for initiatives raising the minimum wage and kindred ballot measures, ACORN has registered, in partnership with Project Vote, 1.6 million largely Democratic-leaning voters since 2004. All told, non-profit groups registered over three million new voters in 2004, about the same time that Republican and Justice Department efforts to publicize “voter fraud” and limit voting access became more widespread. And attacking ACORN has been a central element of a systematic GOP disenfranchisement agenda to undermine Democratic prospects before each Election Day.
In fact, while a 2005 Senate Republican Policy Committee paper claimed, “[v]oter fraud continues to plague our nation’s federal elections, diluting and canceling out the lawful votes of the vast majority of Americans,” Justice Department statistics indicate that few actual instances of voter fraud have been prosecuted in recent years. According to a report by the Justice Department’s Criminal Division of prosecutions between October 2002 and September 2005, the Justice Department charged 95 people with “election fraud” and convicted 55. Among those, however, just 17 individuals were convicted for casting fraudulent ballots; cases against three other individuals were pending at the time of the report. In addition, the Justice Department convicted one election official of submitting fraudulent ballots and convicted five individuals of registration fraud, with cases against 12 individuals pending at the time of the report. Thirty-two individuals were convicted of other “election fraud” issues, including people convicted of offenses arising from “a scheme to block the phone lines used by two Manchester [New Hampshire] organizations to arrange drives to the polls during the 2002 general election” — in other words, these convictions were connected to voter suppression efforts, not voter fraud. Several other people listed in the report were convicted of vote buying.
Additionally, a 2007 report by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice stated:
There have been several documented and widely publicized instances in which registration forms have been fraudulently completed and submitted. But it is extraordinarily difficult to find reported cases in which individuals have submitted registration forms in someone else’s name in order to impersonate them at the polls. Furthermore, most reports of registration fraud do not actually claim that the fraud happens so that ineligible people can vote at the polls. Indeed, we are aware of no recent substantiated case in which registration fraud has resulted in fraudulent votes being cast.
Nevertheless, media outlets continue to report on allegations of possible voter fraud in advance of elections. For instance, between October 14, 2004, and the November 2 election that year, two USA Today articles, 49 CNN transcripts, and 37 Fox News transcripts containing the term “voter fraud” appear in Nexis. Media Matters searched Nexis for news reports containing the term “voter fraud” in the weeks leading up to the 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006 elections in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and in news transcripts from CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC. (Media Matters did not examine the substantive content of these reports). Results of the search were as followed:
October 14-November 7, 2000
Los Angeles Times: 5
The New York Times: 1
The Washington Post: 1
Fox News: 2
October 14-November 5, 2002
Los Angeles Times: 8
The Washington Post: 5
USA Today: 1
Fox News: 7
October 14-November 2, 2004
The Washington Post: 10
Los Angeles Times: 8
The New York Times: 8
USA Today: 2
Fox News: 37
October 14-November 7, 2006
The New York Times: 6
Los Angeles Times: 2
The Washington Post: 2
USA Today: 2
Fox News: 9
From the April 12, 2007, New York Times article:
Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.
Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year.
Most of those charged have been Democrats, voting records show. Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show.
In Miami, an assistant United States attorney said many cases there involved what were apparently mistakes by immigrants, not fraud.
In Wisconsin, where prosecutors have lost almost twice as many cases as they won, charges were brought against voters who filled out more than one registration form and felons seemingly unaware that they were barred from voting.
One ex-convict was so unfamiliar with the rules that he provided his prison-issued identification card, stamped “Offender,” when he registered just before voting.
A handful of convictions involved people who voted twice. More than 30 were linked to small vote-buying schemes in which candidates generally in sheriff’s or judge’s races paid voters for their support.
A federal panel, the Election Assistance Commission, reported last year that the pervasiveness of fraud was debatable. That conclusion played down findings of the consultants who said there was little evidence of it across the country, according to a review of the original report by The New York Times that was reported on Wednesday.
Source / County Fair / Media Matters
Evidence points to ACORN’s sloppiness, but not fraud
By Greg Gordon / October 15, 2008
WASHINGTON — Republicans and their allies in the media and on the Internet are ramping up allegations that the liberal-leaning nonprofit voter registration group ACORN is trying to steal next month’s presidential election for Democrat Barack Obama.
Conservative media outlets and Web sites are focusing on ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. According to TVeyes.com, Fox News alone has mentioned ACORN stories 342 times in recent days.
In nearly a dozen states, county registrars have found phony voter registration applications submitted by canvassers for ACORN; criminal investigations are under way in Nevada, Ohio and elsewhere; and a racketeering suit was filed in Ohio this week. The mounting evidence of ACORN’s sloppy management and poor supervision, however, so far doesn’t support the explosive charges that the group is trying to rig the presidential election.
Larry Lomax, the registrar in Clark County, Nev., said he would estimate that 25,000 of the 90,000 applications submitted by ACORN this year were duplicates or phony.
However, Lomax said in a phone interview with McClatchy Newspapers: “I don’t think ACORN consciously sets out to turn in fraudulent forms. I just think the people they hire find it incredibly easy to rip off their bosses and turn in fake forms.”
While he criticized ACORN’s quality control, Lomax said he doubted that any of the fake filings would result in fraudulent votes.
Election officials say that registrations under names such as Mickey Mouse or Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suggest that ACORN workers were trying to fill their quota of 20 applications to get paid, not to steal the presidency. They say that county registrars or poll workers would flag such obvious pranks, and that anyone who signed a poll book in another person’s name would risk being prosecuted for a felony.
ACORN, which boasts that it has registered 1.3 million mostly poor African-Americans this year, said that it’s alerted authorities to many of the suspicious applications. ACORN officials said the group has fired numerous workers who filled in forms with names from the phone book or the Dallas Cowboys starting lineup rather than trekking from door to door.
Moreover, said ACORN spokesman Scott Levenson, state laws in most of the 21 states where the group is active require it to turn all new registrations over to election officials. The group follows that policy even in states where it’s not required, but ACORN notifies election officials of suspect registrations in all states. “It is our policy to turn in them all,” Levenson said.
Nevertheless, Republicans have seized on the reports to attack Obama, who led a voter registration drive on Chicago’s South Side in 1992 for Project Vote, a group that later hired ACORN to register voters. They also pointed to the Obama campaign’s hiring of an ACORN affiliate for get-out-the-vote efforts and to his role, while on the board of two Chicago charities, in approving hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants for ACORN.
On Tuesday, the conservative-leaning Buckeye Institute filed a racketeering suit against ACORN in Warren County, Ohio, a Republican stronghold in the southwestern part of the state. The suit, nearly identical to a 2004 suit that was withdrawn after the election, seeks to avoid the dilution of legitimate votes, but doesn’t contend “that the election is going to be stolen,” said attorney Maurice Thompson, who filed it.
Ohio ACORN spokeswoman Kati Gall called the suit “a political stunt.”
Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio followed the suit Wednesday with a letter asking U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to work with Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner “to investigate swiftly any allegations of fraud in Ohio’s voter registration process.” Separately, a Republican National Committee lawyer argued that convicted felons who work for ACORN shouldn’t be allowed to register voters in Milwaukee.
ACORN has long been a target of Republicans, including the Justice Department under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Five days before the 2006 election, interim U.S. Attorney Bradley Schlozman of Kansas City trumpeted the indictments of four ACORN voter registration workers, despite a department policy discouraging politically sensitive prosecutions close to elections. Schlozman is now facing a criminal investigation into the veracity of his congressional testimony about that and other matters.
Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said he thinks that the Republican attacks on ACORN “are part of a concerted effort to … discredit the registration of many new voters who may well determine the outcome of the presidential election.”
Source McClatchy / Miami Herald
ACORN, in its own words.
ACORN is the nation’s largest grassroots community organization of low- and moderate-income people with over 400,000 member families organized into more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters in 110 cities across the country. Since 1970, ACORN has been building community organizations that are committed to social and economic justice, and won victories on thousands of issues of concern to our members, through direct action, negotiation, legislative advocacy and voter participation. ACORN helps those who have historically been locked out become powerful players in our democratic system.
To learn more about ACORN, go here.
And see ACORN and Voting Rights Groups Respond to Partisan Attacks / ACORN / Oct. 15, 2008
Also see Who Gets to Vote? / by Amy Goodman / truthdig / Oct. 16, 2008
And Conyers Says Of ACORN: Voter Fraud Allegations ‘A Right-Wing Cottage Industry’ / AHN / Oct. 17, 2008
And ACORN cracked open: Thieves hit Hub office / by O’Ryan Johnson / Boston Herald / Oct. 17, 2008