Guest Columns

DUNCAN: GROUP CAN BE A PAIN, BUT IT'S NOT CRIMINAL

Mighty oaks from little ACORNs grow

Over the years I have had my gripes with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). They can really be a pain in the … neck.

You will always be aware when they develop an interest in something you are doing. They show up in significant numbers, frequently in red T-shirts, and sometimes with a good deal of noise. They are never, to my knowledge, violent or physical.

If you choose to sit down with them, they are very willing to peacefully express their problem or viewpoint.

If you choose to try to ignore them, you’ll soon learn that you’ve made a mistake. They can get loud. They can show up in large enough numbers that they cannot be ignored. They can use signs and noise with the best of demonstrators.

As I said, they can be a pain. But they will be sure that their voices are heard by those they confront — or that the community knows you won’t listen to them.

Are they always right? No. Do they always accept your explanation? No. But in the best traditions of free speech in this country, my observation is that they use only the legal tools necessary to assure that their message gets out.

They can be a real pain. But that does not mean they should be shunted aside, ignored or falsely labeled when their efforts are legal.

They do some very good work in the community.

One of their favorite programs is registering voters, as anyone who has followed this election knows very well.

They have been accused of election fraud, voter fraud and registration fraud, just to name a few. Lots of noise, but none of it has been proved.

A lot of people don’t like ACORN or its mission. It appears that’s because they want to assure that as many of the poor and disadvantaged are registered to vote as they can round up and persuade to register. That’s not always popular.

With limited resources, they try a double play by paying poor people, so the poor can help themselves by doing the job.

Some of these people, of course, try to take ACORN’s money without doing the job. It’s not only poor people who try to take the easy — if immoral or illegal — way to get the money. Lots of people from all classes do. ACORN knows this.

ACORN checks all the forms before turning them in. Even if they discover falsified forms, in most cases they still must, by law, submit them to election authorities. This rule prevents ACORN or other groups who solicit registrations from throwing out the forms of those who are from parties they don’t like.

From what I have been able to learn from non-campaign sources (mostly newspaper reports), ACORN works with election officials to try and find fraudulent or incorrect forms.

Its normal practice is to review the forms before submitting them to officials. They separate forms that are obviously fraudulent (with such names as Mickey Mouse or the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys, to name two real instances) and mark them clearly as probably fraudulent. They also look for mistakes in filling out the forms and mark them for election officials.

Many election officials from both parties and many prosecutors who have investigated complaints against ACORN say the group works well with them to assure accurate registrations. Press reports quote Colorado election officials of both parties as saying have not had problems with ACORN.

Of course, some duplicate registrations will slip through. However, officials at the polls will detect duplicate registrations if anyone tries to vote more than once.

On October 15, 2008, in the final presidential debate at Hofstra University, John McCain made the bellicose charge 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.”

So far no charges have been filed, but a lawsuit recently was filed by a Republican official in Pennsylvania.

Oh! By the way, John McCain was the keynote speaker at a 2006 rally on immigration reform. One of the key sponsors was ACORN.

’Nuff said.

Norman Duncan is a former lobbyist and current Democrat.