12 October 2008

From Tiny ACORNS...

The newest charges against the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) are a welcome reminder that Republicans aren't the only party trying to cheat in American elections. You'd get the opposite impression from listening to Democratic, liberal and progressive spokesmen who oppose GOP attempts at "vote suppression." Many of their charges against Republicans are legitimate, but when Republicans protest that some of the steps they advocate are necessary to prevent "voter fraud," Democrats act outraged and deny that anyone is perpetrating or encouraging fraudulent voting. Anyone who knows the history of the Democratic Party has to laugh at such claims. Vote fraud has a rich bipartisan history in this country, and there's no reason to believe that the older party of the two somehow renounced the practice. The evidence against ACORN (admittedly not an arm of the Democratic Party, but often in sympathy with it) is pretty damning, but there's room to blame the method by which the organization goes about registering voters rather than the motive.

The big problem with ACORN seems to be that it pays people to do its work. This creates a perverse incentive for unscrupulous operatives to get something for nothing by giving ACORN faked registration forms. The organization claims that it scrupulously vets the forms it receives to screen out fakes, but they could save themselves the step by removing the incentive and doing its work on a volunteer basis. That might also save them the grief they've gotten in the past from union organizers. While critics have charged that ACORN increases the perverse incentive by paying a piece-race, per registration form, the organization denies this, stating that operatives are paid a regularly hourly wage.

ACORN further claims that, even should some bad forms get through their scrutiny, no one would be able to use them in order to cast a fraudulent vote, since anyone trying that would have to present valid ID at the polls. For that reason, they dismiss Republican complaints and portray them as more advocacy of vote suppression. Without fully endorsing the Republican view, I have to note that what happens to the voter attempting fraud depends on the people running the polling place. There's no guarantee that a fraudulent voter would be detected (on whatever suspicion) and challenged.

In any event, organizations like ACORN should be unnecessary, at least to the extent that it's branched out into voter-outreach from its original and now controversial mandate to help poor people get housing. The organization itself has advocated "motor-voter" laws that would make its own work partially superfluous, and further reforms along the lines of Election Day registration could make it completely unnecessary. ACORN's work is self-evidently partisan; it would not make such efforts if it wasn't convinced that the voters recruited would vote along the lines they or their patrons desire. The idea of a middleman organization intervening between the individual and the state to facilitate the registration process is objectionable. It should be up to the state to make sure people know how to register and to ensure that everyone who wants to and can do it legally is able to. Under current Bipolarchic conditions that's probably too idealistic a position to take, but to the extent that ACORN clings to one of the pillars of the Bipolarchy, their work doesn't automatically improve the situation. While any Republican attempt to throw out all registrations collected by ACORN should be resisted if it happens, no one should regard the ACORN issue with complacency.

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