ACORN and voter registration

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at
Sat Oct 25 08:27:08 CDT 2008

[There continues to be more escalation between the NY Times, ACORN, and 
The Republican party, and because this is a list devoted to the 
understanding and advancement of community organizing, I want to 
continue sending out what I am receiving and learning. This is 
unprecedented.  Never before has community organizing been such a 
central part of a national election.  I also want everyone to know that, 
because of the importance of this issue, I am revising these messages by 
hand so the embedded web links are available in plain text.]

From:     Steve Kest, ACORN Executive Director <legrep at>

We'd like to call your attention to three excellent articles that are 
running in the current issue of The Nation. The first is by Peter Dreier 
and John Atlas entitled, "The GOP's Blame-ACORN Game", which discusses 
the right-wing claim that ACORN "caused nearly single-handedly, the 
world's financial crisis." The second article, "Protect This Election" 
by Andrew Gumbel, a detailed analysis of Republican voter suppression 
efforts, puts the attacks on ACORN's voter registration program in 

The article by John Nichols, found below, describes a supportive letter 
sent to Sen. John McCain by the country's leading civil rights groups.

Rights Groups to McCain: Condemn Anti-ACORN Threats
posted by John Nichols on 10/23/2008 @ 12:33pm
The nation's leading civil rights and civic organizations are calling on 
Republican presidential candidate John McCain to "reduce rhetorical 
excess" that may be inspiring violent threats and acts of vandalism 
against individuals and offices associated with one of the primary 
targets of his campaign's attacks: ACORN.

A letter from the groups to McCain urges the Arizona senator to "restate 
your support for full and equal voter participation and to make it 
absolutely clear that hatred, intimidation, and violence have no place 
in our nation's election system."

McCain and his running-mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, have made no 
secret of their disdain for the voter registration work of the 
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. McCain, who two 
years ago referred to ACORN (along with the Service Employees 
International Union, People for the American Way and other groups 
sponsoring a Miami event at which he appeared) as the sort of 
organization that "makes America special," now accuses the group of 
jeopardizing "the fabric of democracy," while his supporters 
aggressively -- if not quite factually -- accuse ACORN of "voter fraud."

As McCain, Palin and their backers have suggested that ACORN is a threat 
to American values and ideals, ACORN staffers and offices have become 
the targets of violent threats and vandalism.

The association of the McCain-Palin campaign's over-the-top allegations 
regarding ACORN's voter registration drives and verbal and physical 
threats against an organization that employs and works with many people 
of color and residents of low-income neighborhoods has stirred the 
concern of the country's most prominent civil rights and civic 

Because McCain, himself, voiced some of the wildest criticisms of ACORN 
and its staffers, a letter was dispatched to him today by leaders of the 
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the League 
of Women Voters, the Advancement Project, Common Cause, the Leadership 
Conference on Civil Rights, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination 
Committee, People for the American Way and the Demos think tank.

Here's the letter:

    Dear Senator McCain:

    In the last several weeks there has been a sharp rise in the number 
of allegations regarding "voter registration fraud," and a great deal of 
heated discussion and debate.

    Then, during last week's presidential debate, you escalated the 
rhetoric on this subject by saying that ACORN was "on the verge of maybe 
perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this 
country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."

    Within twenty-four hours of your remarks, the following incidents 

    · A female ACORN staff person in Providence, RI received a phone 
call involving racial epithets and threats of confronting her after work.

    · ACORN offices in Boston and Seattle were vandalized.

    · An ACORN staff person in Cleveland, OH received an email stating 
that she "is going to have her life ended."

    · In total, ACORN's 87 offices across the country received hundreds 
of hostile e-mails, many of them containing racial slurs.

    These types of actions have no place in our democratic society, and 
they cry out for swift and unequivocal condemnation. We believe it is 
time to reduce rhetorical excess and for all Americans to work together 
to build trust in American democracy.

    We trust it was neither your intention to incite these types of acts 
nor to suppress voter participation by eligible voters. In that spirit, 
we ask you to restate your support for full and equal voter 
participation and to make it absolutely clear that hatred, intimidation, 
and violence have no place in our nation's election system.


    Julian Bond, Chairman, NAACP

    Mary G. Wilson, President, League of Women Voters of the United States

    Penda D. Hair, Co-Director, Advancement Project

    Bob Edgar, President, Common Cause

    Wade Henderson, President & CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

    Kareem W. Shora, National Executive Director, American-Arab 
Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

    Miles Rapoport, President, Demos: A Network of Ideas and Action

    Kathryn Kolbert, President, People For the American Way


From:     Steve Kest, ACORN Executive Director <legrep at>

We'd like to call your attention to three more articles that provide a 
useful perspective on the McCain campaign's attack on ACORN:

First an excellent piece by San Francisco activist and writer Randy 
Shaw, called: ACORN Teaches McCain About Power of Community Organizing.

Second, an analysis by the inimitable Jim Hightower, which begins:

    Maybe it was last week's full moon that prompted the overwrought 
howls of outrage being directed at ACORN by John McCain and a pack of 
his right-wing cohorts. Either that-or just raw partisan nuttiness.

    ACORN is the feisty and effective grassroots organization that is 
of, by, and for lower-income Americans. Its community organizers (grit 
your teeth and say "doggone it," Sarah Palin) have had remarkable 
success over the past three decades in helping low-wage working folks 
gain a real say in how their families and communities are treated by 
politicians, bankers, developers and other elites.

The entire piece can be found here

Finally, here 
is an article posted by ACORN Chief Organizer Bertha Lewis on the Open 
Left site titled "ACORN Strikes Back."

Steve Kest


[ed:  the article from the Times is at  
Interestingly, as far as I can tell, it went off their home page in less 
then 24 hours, which I find interesting.  In addition, in searching for 
the article on the Times website, one of the sponsored links (they use 
Google Search) was to an anti-ACORN website.]

From:     Steve Kest, ACORN Executive Director <legrep at>

An article in today's New York Times called into question - inaccurately 
- some of the totals on ACORN's voter registration drive.  The following 
statement is our response to this article:

We are puzzled by today's New York Times article.  It has always been 
our position that we collected over 1.3 million registration 
applications.  We have always said that we identified potentially 
problematic cards.  The core responsibility of local boards of elections 
has been and continues to be to determine which registration cards are 
duplicates, which are new registrants, and which are people that changed 
their addresses.  The Times article mistakenly assumes that much of the 
impact that voter registration drives are designed to have - enabling 
people to change their addresses so they are able to vote on Election 
Day - is of no value.  In the end, after taking into account these 
change of address registration applications, nearly one million people 
we helped to register will be eligible to vote on Election Day because 
of our work. 
While we would love it if the American system of voter registration were 
so simple and accessible that every voter registration application we 
collect translated to another voter successfully getting on the rolls, 
we all know that this is not the case in the United States. For all the 
talk this season about Project Vote and ACORN "registering" voters, it 
is important to note that nonprofits and community organizations do not 
have the final authority to register anyone. Only the government can 
register voters. What Project Vote and ACORN do is assist Americans in 
filling out registration applications and submitting them to election 
officials who make the final determination of their eligibility.

Project Vote and ACORN are proud that we collected 1.3 million 
applications in communities -- and among populations -- that have 
historically been left out of the process and neglected by other 
efforts.  No one can dispute that America's electorate does not 
represent its eligible voting population. Nearly 50 after years after 
the signing of the Voting Rights Act, and 15 years after the passage of 
the National Voter Registration Act, we still have an electorate in 
which Americans of color and young Americans are under-represented by 
significant margins.

Our government, unlike most western democracies, has shirked its 
responsibility to ensure that all eligible Americans can cast a ballot 
without unfair barriers and bureaucratic burdens.
As the NY Times editorialized just one week ago:

    The answer is for government to do a better job of registering 
people to vote. That way there would be less need to rely on private 
registration drives, largely being conducted by well-meaning private 
organizations that use low-paid workers. Federal and state governments 
should do their own large-scale registration drives staffed by 
experienced election officials. Even better, Congress and the states 
should adopt election-day registration, which would make such drives 

We couldn't agree more. But until the government assumes this 
responsibility, voter registration drives like ours have proven to be, 
by far, the most effective means currently available to reach 
underrepresented voters. This is a burden and responsibility that ACORN, 
Project Vote, and scores of other beleaguered nonprofit organizations 
across the country have assumed in the vacuum of real leadership and 
reform on this issue.  It is thankless work that is difficult and 
arduous at the best of times, and in election cycles like this one~full 
of partisan attacks and reckless rhetoric~it sometimes seems impossible.
We look forward to the day when our efforts to help register voters are 
unnecessary, when our voter registration programs are obsolete. Until 
that day comes, however, Project Vote and ACORN will continue to work 
together to ensure all eligible Americans have their voices heard on 
Election Day. 


For those interested in more details, here is our more complete analysis:

Our best estimate is that of the 1.3 million voter registration cards 
ACORN collected, approximately:

(1) 450,000 of our registrants are expected to be brand-new voters,

(2) 450,000 will be Americans who needed to update their registration 
information (e.g. change in address) in order to be eligible to vote in 
2008.  If they had not updated their voter registration information as 
the result of ACORN's efforts they would either not be able to vote in 
2008, or would have great difficulty voting -- and having their vote 

(3) 300,000 will fail to match government systems, because they are 
incomplete or will be duplicates -- people who did not realize they were 
already validly registered.

(4) Less than 2 percent will turn out to be deliberately falsified by 
canvassers.  ACORN's Quality Control system checks each card:  whenever 
there was a phone number we made up to three attempts to call the 
applicant and verify information.  In every case where ACORN found a 
bogus application or missing information we flagged that for election 

(These are estimates based on studies of past voter registration drives 
- ours and others - and samples for our current work.  There is no way 
to know the final outcome of all the registration applications submitted 
until after election officials are done with their work and updated 
voter rolls are published and can be analyzed.)
Project Vote and ACORN have been open and forthcoming about these 
numbers throughout our drive, and in fact provided the same facts to New 
York Times reporter Shaila Dewan for a story that appeared on June 15th 
of this year about a different group's voter registration drive:  
"Michael Slater, the deputy director of Project Vote, said high numbers 
of incomplete applications were not unusual in such drives. He said as a 
rule of thumb, 35 percent of voter drive applications were new voters, 
35 percent were change of address, and 30 percent were duplicates or 
incomplete."  We have also made this point at various public discussions 
of our voter registration efforts.


From:     Bertha Lewis <newsacorn at>

Dear Friend,
STOP the attacks on ACORN.

To put it mildly, ACORN is under attack.

The attack on ACORN (The Association of Community Organizations for 
Reform Now) is shaping up to be the most vicious of the 2008 election. 
The problem is, we will have to suffer the consequences long after the 
election is over. We need your help, and we need it now.

ACORN is accustomed to opposition. We've been educating, organizing, and 
empowering low-income communities for nearly 40 years. I can tell you 
that you make some enemies when you advocate with and for poor people 
against policies and practices that discriminate and keep communities 
from thriving. But we've never seen anything like this.

When John McCain's presidential campaign began sinking in the polls, 
they looked for a scapegoat. They picked ACORN. And now, in the past few 
weeks alone, ACORN staffers have received death threats in Ohio and 
Rhode Island, and offices have been vandalized in Washington and 
Massachusetts. Numerous threatening and racist phone calls have been 
made to ACORN offices across the country.

And then there's FOX news, accusing ACORN of all kinds of criminal 
activity hundreds - HUNDREDS - of times during the past few days. You 
know what FOX news isn't reporting? This: Just two years ago, John 
McCain himself stood in solidarity with ACORN, saying of our members, 
"they are what makes America special."

McCain's attacks have to stop. They are wrong, and the results for 
hundreds of thousands of people with whom we work will be disastrous. 
Please, take a moment today and ask John McCain to stop resorting to 
this deceptive, hurtful attack immediately. Click here.

We hope you'll also spread the word. It will take millions of people to 
shut down the assault and stop the lies. Our friends at Brave New Films 
have made a fantastic video about ACORN, debunking the outrageous lies 
and more to help.

Thank you so very much for taking a moment to support ACORN while we're 
in the fight of our lives.


Steven Kest, Executive Director, ACORN
Bertha Lewis, Chief Organizer, ACORN

P.S. We welcome your financial support as well. This fight is costing us 
in every way, including financially. Thank you for your generosity.

ACORN is the nation's largest community organization of low- and 
moderate-income families, with over 400,000 member families organized 
into neighborhood chapters in 100 cities across the country. Since 1970 
ACORN has taken action and won victories on issues of concern to our 
members. Our priorities include: better housing for first time 
homebuyers and tenants, living wages for low-wage workers, more 
investment in our communities from banks and governments, and better 
public schools. ACORN is an acronym, and each letter should be 
capitalized. ACORN stands for the Association of Community Organizations 
for Reform Now.

ACORN's website is at


From: "Peter Dreier" <dreier at>

Friends and Colleagues:
The Republican attack on ACORN, the community organizing group, has 
accelerated dramatically in the last few weeks, with John McCain, Sarah 
Palin, conservative columnists and bloggers, and right-wing TV and radio 
talk show hosts all joining in the anti-ACORN chorus.  Among other 
assaults, they have been scapegoating ACORN for  Wall Street's 
disastrous lending spree. As John Atlas and I reveal in our article, 
"The GOP's Blame-ACORN  Game," 
(, which appears in 
the November 10 issue and also on-line, the accusations are completely 
bogus. Despite that reality, the campaign against ACORN has gotten 
traction because the conservative echo chamber has been effective at 
injecting their views into the mainstream, especially since McCain and 
Palin have jumped on the anti-ACORN bandwagon.  John and I will be 
discussing the anti-ACORN campaign on Laura Flanders' "RadioNation" show 
this weekend, which you can listen to on your local Air America station 
(check here for times: or by podcast  
In the current issue of the Jewish Daily Forward, I debate Obama vs. 
McCain with Yuval Levin, who served as associate director of the Bush 
White House Domestic Policy Council from 2004 through 2006 and is now a 
fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think 
tank.  Our dueling columns are posted on the newspaper's website -- my 
column, "Obama Would Bring Out the Best In Us" 
( and Levin's "McCain Offers 
Substantive Solution."  (
Peter Dreier
Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics
Chair, Urban & Environmental Policy Program
Occidental College
1600 Campus Road
Los Angeles, CA 90041
Phone: (323) 259-2913
FAX: (323) 259-2734
"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great 
moral crises maintain their neutrality" - Dante

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