“Picking Up ACORN’s Pieces:” The Voter Registration Deficiency

New Orleans    Rob “Biko” Baker, the executive director of the League of Young Voters, wrote an interesting story in the Summer 2012 issue of Shelterforce daring to state plainly what has been obvious to virtually everyone concerned and biting their fingernails as the USA Election Day looms before us.  His article, entitled “Picking up ACORN’s Pieces”  is realistic and sobering.

When he wrote, he noted that,

In 2008 at this point in the election cycle, more than a million more voters had registered than they have this time around [2012].  Why?  Because after decades of empowering hundreds of thousands of voters, organizations that have historically run large voter registration canvasses – namely ACORN – are no longer around.

Baker is no sunshine liberal and continues to state the case flatly about our current predicament in an election that never should have been this close:

…opponents critical of nonpartisan voter engagement have also continued to exploit the false accusations against the organization to make it more difficult to both register to vote and participate in elections.

He notes that the suppression efforts in Florida aimed at ACORN and others in this battleground state for the last several cycles had left “100,000 fewer registered voters in the state than there were at this same time in 2008.”  Got it, yet?  Population grows over 4 years, but registered voters go down despite 4 years of haphazard registration efforts over two cycles in the face of oppression and legal threats.   This is painful to read.  I can easily remember almost a year ago exactly, right before Thanksgiving, hearing from a big time donor and political operator in Florida who was exploring whether or not to get me to come into the state to rev up their registration operation.  He ended up deciding that Florida “was good.”  The results, very dangerously, seem to say “not so much!”

Baker argues convincingly that the most impacted group are young voters of color, who also had been the ones most likely to vote in the last Presidential election.

…this is the same demographic hit hardest by the change in election law.  Young people of color are more likely to be registered by a third party operation and they are also more likely to not possess the proper ID needed to vote.  So when groups like ACORN disappear access to the civic process also disappears.

I hate to say this, but the expression, “truth from the mouths of babes” came to mind as I read Baker’s eulogy for ACORN in the section of his article entitled, “The Loss of ACORN:”

ACORN had faced repeated attacks by conservative opponents…Progressives may point fingers at conservatives for trying to suppress voter turnout, but the truth is that ACORN’s greatest attribute was empowering working class and poor communities to engage at the local level, where the Democratic Party is often dominant.  ACORN’s ability to bring new voters into the civic process made poor communities more powerful politically.  The organization took on both sides of the political spectrum, giving community activists and leaders a platform to stand in solidarity with their neighbors.  This level of civic engagement, while often ignored by political pundits, is exactly the type of democratic participation needed to rebuild the struggling communities ACORN targeted.  Most people, regardless of political background, would agree that self-determination is a good thing.  The truth is:  the entire country is hurt by the loss of ACORN.

Baker mentions the Bus Federation, Rock the Vote, Voto Latino, and the Hip-Hop Caucus as four of the “efforts picking up the pieces after ACORN….”  The smaller pieces of ACORN that reorganized on the local level are not mentioned.  Most of the ones that went this route are not in the battleground states, or where they are have either been shut out of the effort that they could have impacted or been too small to move the needle, even with a critical election and vital constituencies few are able to move as deftly as experienced ACORN organizers and personnel.

Finally, I have to find myself in total agreement with Baker as he finishes his piece and notes that

…the demand for civic engagement organizations in low-income communities of color remains at an all-time high, and there are huge opportunities for organizations to engage young people of color and take advantage of mobilizing the Millennial electorate.  The effect could be the building of major 21st century political movements, but we have to start now.

Amen!

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