Congressional Efforts To Suppress Voter Registration of the Poor Based On ACORN Fallacies

The run-up to the 2008 US Presidential Election saw one of the largest organized efforts ever to register poor, and previously disenfranchised voters. Those efforts were in line with national policy developed after the horrors of the 2000 election, embodied in the National Voter Registration Act, which Advocates for justice has sued to enforce. The 2008 efforts, led by the now defunct group ACORN, were wildly successful, which is why they were attacked so viciously – and falsely – as an effort to promote voter fraud.  Senator David Vitter of Louisiana has kicked off an effort to make it harder, perhaps impossible, to do large scale voter registration ever again. And he is stating that he is proposing the legislation to prevent "another ACORN." Fact is, as is so vividly pointed out in the accompanying article posted on the Media matters website, ACORN has been cleared of all allegations of complicity in voter fraud, most recently in Connecticut.  See

Posted on Media Matters
3 Feb 2011

Sen. Vitter’s Legislation Combats Non-Issue Of ACORN’s Voter Fraud

February 01, 2011 4:09 pm ET

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced two pieces of legislation: the "Protect Taxpayers from ACORN Act" and the "Voter Fraud Prevention Act." Both of these bills are based upon popular conservative inflations of non-issues. Contrary to Vitter’s allegations, there is no evidence that ACORN perpetrated any kind of systematic voter fraud; instead, there have been just six cases since 2005 involving individual ACORN employees accused of voter registration fraud — a crime extremely unlikely to spawn any actual voter fraud during an election. Voter fraud itself is extremely rare: a five-year effort by the Bush administration turned up virtually no evidence of any widespread voter fraud.

CLAIM: ACORN Was Responsible For "Systematic Fraud"

Sen. David Vitter press release:

U.S. Sen. David Vitter last week introduced the Voter Fraud Prevention Act and the Protect Taxpayers from ACORN Act, which seek to protect taxpayers and the democratic process itself from the type of systemic fraud perpetrated by ACORN and related organizations in recent years. […]
"In order to prevent ACORN from perpetrating another fraud on the American taxpayer, we must aggressively focus on the various ACORN state chapters and subsidiaries who have adopted new names in an attempt to defraud the system," said Vitter. "ACORN has a well-documented history of hiding behind various nonprofit protections in order to conceal their schemes, and my bill will ensure that American taxpayers are protected from ACORN and its numerous mutating state chapters." [Vitter press release, 1/31/11, emphasis added]

FACT: There Was No "Systematic" Voter Fraud — Only Isolated Incidents Of Voter Registration Fraud

Government Watchdog: No Viable Cases Of Fraud By ACORN Itself — Just Six Cases Of Voter Registration Fraud By Employees. From a report by the Government Accountability Office:

In the closed matters, closed investigations, and prosecutions since fiscal year 2005 provided by the FEC, the FBI, and EOUSA, ACORN and four potentially related organizations (Project Vote, Citizens Consulting, Inc., Citizen Services Inc., and SEIU Local 100) or their employees were involved to varying degrees in the investigated allegations, as detailed in the tables below.  The allegations involved generally related to voter registration fraud and election fraud. IGs can also conduct investigations to determine whether an organization or individual violated federal law. However, of the 31 IGs that we contacted, 29 stated that they had no ongoing or closed investigations of ACORN or potentially related organizations since fiscal year 2005. […]
The FEC identified four closed matters that involved allegations that ACORN or potentially related organizations violated the Federal Election Campaign Act.
For each of these matters, the FEC determined that there was no evidence that such violations occurred. These matters are summarized in table 5. EOUSA and the FBI identified six closed investigations, most concerning allegations of voter registration fraud on the part of ACORN employees.  Of the six investigations, all were closed without federal prosecutorial action for reasons such as lack of, or insufficiency of, evidence.  These investigations are summarized in table 6.
EOUSA identified six closed cases that involved employees of ACORN.  The charges filed did not allege wrongdoing by ACORN or any potentially related organizations. The six cases generally involved alleged voter registration fraud; all but one of these cases resulted in a guilty plea by the defendant. These cases are summarized in table 7. [Government Accountability Office, 6/14/10, emphasis added]

TPM: A Few ACORN Employees Cheated On Voter Registration — But ACORN Often Turned Them In. From Talking Points Memo: "ACORN registers lots of lower income and/or minority voters. They operate all across the country and do a lot of things beside voter registration. What’s key to understand is their method. By and large they do not rely on volunteers to register voters. They hire people — often people with low incomes or even the unemployed. This has the dual effect of not only registering people but also providing some work and income for people who are out of work. But because a lot of these people are doing it for the money, inevitably, a few of them cut corners or even cheat. So someone will end up filling out cards for nonexistent names and some of those slip through ACORN’s own efforts to catch errors. (It’s important to note that in many of the recent ACORN cases that have gotten the most attention it’s ACORN itself that has turned the people in who did the fake registrations.) These reports start buzzing through the right-wing media every two years and every time the anecdotal reports of ‘thousands’ of fraudulent registrations turns out, on closer inspection, to be either totally bogus themselves or wildly exaggerated." [Talking Points Memo, 10/10/08, emphasis added]

  • ACORN Workers Charged With Voter Registration Fraud In Missouri Were Fired, Turned In By ACORN. According to "ACORN officials in Kansas City said they turned in the four people who were indicted. ‘We’re very happy that they were indicted,’ said Claudie Harris with ACORN. Harris said ACORN workers are paid by the hour and not by the number of voter registration cards they turn in. ‘When you fraudulently defraud this, that gives us a bad name and what we’re trying to do a bad name,’ Harris said. ACORN officials said the four indicted have been fired." [, 11/1/06]
  • No Reports Of Fraudulent Registrations Actually Being Used To Vote In Missouri. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, in Missouri, "the wrongdoers were an isolated few registration workers, and despite the skepticism of some that registration fraud occurs only to let ineligible people vote fraudulently, there are no reports of which we are aware that any votes were cast using any fraudulent registration connected to the drive." [Brennan Center for Justice, accessed 7/7/10]

Allegations Of Voter Fraud Part Of Systematic Effort To Discredit ACORN. From Huffington Post: "Since 2000 ACORN’s effort to register millions of poor, minority voters, a time-honored way of bringing disenfranchised people into the American democratic process, put it squarely in the crosshairs of the Republican Party. Determined to destroy ACORN as a threat to the GOP, White House political director Karl Rove led an effort to get U.S. attorneys to file bogus ‘voter fraud’ charges against the community group. When one of them, a Republican, David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney for New Mexico refused, Bush’s Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez, fired him – an abuse of power that cost Gonzalez his job once his brazen behavior became public. This month, the House Judiciary Committee released over 5,000 pages of White House and Republican National Committee e-mails, with transcripts of closed-door testimony by Karl Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers. The documents reveal that Rove directed the sacking of U.S. Attorneys who found no evidence to indict ACORN." [Huffington Post, 9/25/09]
GAO: No Evidence ACORN Mishandled Federal Grants. From Huffington Post: "On Monday, June 14, a preliminary probe by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) of ACORN has found no evidence the association or related organizations mishandled the $40 million in federal money they received in recent years. A review of grants by nine federal agencies found no problems with ACORN’s grants." [Huffington Post, 6/15/10]

CLAIM: There Have Been "A Significant Number Of Voter Fraud Cases" That Threaten "The Right To Free Elections"

Sen. David Vitter press release:

"In the past few years, a significant number of voter fraud cases committed by ACORN and others have come to light, and these are cause for grave concern because the right to free elections is one of our country’s most cherished freedoms," said Vitter. "Voter fraud threatens that right, and individuals or organizations that attempt to manipulate the system to bring about their own desired result should be stopped before they upend our electoral process."
Vitter’s bill would help prevent voter fraud by requiring that individuals engaged in the distribution of voter application forms cannot be convicted felons, must sign and print legibly their name on the registration form and must include other identifying material – including the name of any organization that they are working on behalf of. Further, the bill requires that these individuals certify – under penalty of law – that they haven’t received financial compensation based on the number of forms they submit. [Vitter press release, 1/31/11]

FACT: No Evidence Of Widespread Voter Fraud

Five-Year Effort By Bush Administration Did Not Find Widespread Incidences Of Voter Fraud. According to the New York Times: "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. … 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." [New York Times4/12/07]

Most Voter Fraud Cases Dealt With Unintended Mistakes And Errors. According to the New York Times: "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." [New York Times4/12/07]

An Individual Is As Likely To Commit Voter Fraud As He Is To Be Hit By Lightning. According to the Brennan Center for Justice: "evidence from the microscopically scrutinized 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington State actually reveals just the opposite: though voter fraud does happen, it happens approximately 0.0009% of the time. The similarly closely-analyzed 2004 election in Ohio revealed a voter fraud rate of 0.00004%. National Weather Service data shows that Americans are struck and killed by lightning about as often." [Brennan Center for Justice, 2007]

Brennan Center For Justice: Voter Fraud Is So Rare Because Its Risks Are Much Greater Than Its Rewards. According to the Brennan Center for Justice: "[V]oter fraud is extraordinarily rare. In part, this is because fraud by individual voters is a singularly foolish and ineffective way to attempt to win an election. Each act of voter fraud in connection with a federal election risks five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, in addition to any state penalties. In return, it yields at most one incremental vote. That single extra vote is simply not worth the price." [Brennan Center for Justice, 2007]