My Opinion on Voter Mess

Ideas and Issues Personal Writings

My Opinion on Voter Mess

October 23, 2008
Washington    On Saturday morning before 9 AM I sent a piece off to the McClatchy-Tribune News Service on the voting dust-up and ACORN.  So far I know it has run in the Miami Herald, San Diego Times-Union, Glen Falls (NY) Post Star, and Tallahassee Democrat.  Who knows where else?

Here is what ran in the Modesto Bee in California:

ACORN experiences a few problems amid much good

By Wade Rathke

October 21, 2008

ACORN or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, the national community organization of 500,000 low and moderate income family members in communities throughout the United States, is having what I refer to as its "Britney Spears moment."
ACORN is a question in the presidential debates, part of the Pailn stump speech, the backdrop for a Stephen Colbert satire, and the setup for a Jay Leno joke about President Bush.
Stop already! Having founded the organization 38 years ago and directed its operations as chief organizer until this year, now I get to wince as the limelight puts out more heat than light in intensity of ACORN’s 15 minutes of fame.
The roots of the controversy around ACORN are pretty confusing, as Greg Gordon of McClatchy-Tribune’s Washington Bureau tried his best to explain earlier this week in a piece called, "ACORN may be victim of its own workers in voter registration cases." The facts get lost too easily. In 9 of the 11 states where questions about ACORN’s registration efforts have been raised, /by law/ every voter registration form must be submitted, regardless of doubts about its authenticity.
For all of the publicity about Mickey Mouse registering in Florida with ACORN, the law gave the organization no choice but to flag the form and turn it in or face a $1,000 fine. That may seem goofy to some, but it is the law nonetheless.
A small number of problems in a pile of 1.3 million new registration forms are miniscule, and do not equal voter fraud. Mickey Mouse is not voting and cannot vote. Experts everywhere have roundly dismissed voter fraud as an infinitesimally small problem in American elections given the extensive vetting, identification requirements, and real obstacles we create for voting.
In my view obstacles are the real problem here.

In the American democratic system we are making it hard to vote and harder to register, and that should be the real fire we need to quell underneath all of this smoke. In other democratic countries there is almost universal and automatic registration. Countries as diverse as Brazil and Australia even have mandatory voting to ensure that democracy works, since without full citizen participation, democracy cannot exist.
Yet here in the United States we make voter registration difficult, expensive and little more than a partisan firestorm in the weeks before an election. All of the publicity here is in fact deja vu all over again.
The Republican state parties field Federal Election Commission charges against ACORN registration efforts before the 2006 election in battleground states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and dropped the charges right after the election. U.S. Attorneys in several places were fired for refusing to indict ACORN registers and registration efforts in New Mexico and Missouri in 2006 because there were no grounds, and this politicization of the Department of Justice led to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ resignation. They mounted the same attacks in 2004 in Florida, and ACORN sued for libel and won.
ACORN raised and spent $16 million to register 1.3 million new voters.

Think that’s easy? It’s not. But, why in a democracy are we creating a system that requires an organization of lower income families to spend more than $12 a person to do the best job it can to register its people in working class neighborhoods all over America so that they can fight for what should be their automatic right to vote?
Mistakes are certainly going to be made, and the work needs to always be done better, but frankly this seems like blaming the victim. We need to fix the system and make registration universal and easy, so that we can concentrate next on full democratic participation, not just kick around groups like ACORN that are willing to get in the kitchen and take the heat so that their members get the chance to vote.
Wade Rathke is Chief Organizer of ACORN International, a community organization working in Mexico, Dominican Republic, Canada, Peru, Argentina, India, Kenya, Indonesia, and Korea and other countries. He founded ACORN in 1970 and was chief organizer, directing the staff and programs of ACORN until June 2008. ACORN has registered millions of new voters over the last 38 years outside of the limelight.
Reach him at
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.