ACORN REFUSING NEW CLIENTS, SHUTTING DOWN OFFICES

acorn

If it were me writing the story, the headline would be: “ACORN Gives Legitimate Charities Black Eye.” As a journalist it would be my goal to give these guys a black eye. I applaud the efforts of those who have brought the truth to light, it needed doing for more than one reason. First, and foremost they manipulated the people who actually paid them membership dues; by embezzling from there own organization. Then, there is the consideration that ACORN intimidated politicians and manipulated the banking & housing industry, by barging into and disrupting private board meetings and blocking egress to banks in order to promulgate home loans for those who didn’t meet the financial requirements. And last, but not least, they duped all of America by misusing it’s tax dollars and promoting fraud. ACORN, in its entirety, needs to be dismantled; they should not be allowed to continue in any capacity. The good part of their demise is that the crooked political machine lost an ally due to these shenanigans, and that might be the organization’s biggest contribution to society yet!

CHICAGO — Stung by the recession and a string of scandals, the ACORN community activist organization has found itself shutting down in many of the communities it once worked to empower.

Brian Kettenring, a spokesman for the national organization, said that no new clients were being signed up while the group did an internal investigation into how business is conducted.

The freeze comes as ACORN has been closing offices across the nation. The organization has shuttered 40 percent of its centers over the last two years, dropping from its high of 105 offices two years ago, he said.

Dozens of branches, which helped low- and middle-income clients with housing, jobs and navigating government aid programs, have been closed, including those in Chicago, Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Omaha, Neb.

Kettenring said the closures were mostly due to the poor economy and had become more frequent in the last year. “We’re seeing the same challenges the entire nonprofit sector is seeing,” he said.

But former ACORN members say the scandals that have recently dogged the organization — including allegations of mismanagement and voter registration fraud — have been a bigger problem.

In the latest controversy, ACORN workers in several cities, including New York, Baltimore and Washington, were secretly videotaped giving advice to two conservative activists who posed as a prostitute and her pimp and said that they wanted to buy a house and run it as a brothel with teenage girls. Workers were recorded giving advice on how to evade taxes and conceal the nature of their business.

The appearance of the videos last week on a Fox News program set off a furor. The U.S. House voted this week to deny all federal funds for ACORN, while state lawmakers in California, Georgia and Minnesota called for investigations or a cutoff of state funds.

“When you have this big of a mess, it takes time to clean up and your funders drop like flies,” said Madeline Talbott, a former head organizer for ACORN’s operations in Illinois.

ACORN’s Chicago office closed in January 2008, when Talbott — along with 365 community members, the local ACORN board and at least a dozen paid staff members — quit the organization over concerns of mismanagement and a lack of financial transparency at the group’s national headquarters.

“I feel so torn about what’s happening now,” said Talbott, who today is an organizer with Action Now, an advocacy group for the poor in Chicago. “I’m so relieved not to be part of the organization any more, and so sad because they are trying to clean things up.”

Founded in Arkansas in 1970, ACORN advocates for higher minimum wages, easier access to affordable housing and bolstering voter registration in low-income communities.

It has been a top target for conservatives because of its liberal, grass-roots agenda. President Barack Obama worked as an attorney for the group in the early 1990s.

The organization mobilized a get-out-the-vote effort to support Obama’s presidential bid last year, but it was tainted when nearly one-third of the 1.3 million new voters the group registered were rejected.

Last week, authorities in Miami announced the arrests of 11 former registration canvassers on allegations that they had submitted nearly 200 falsified forms.

Later this month, a preliminary hearing is scheduled in Nevada, where state prosecutors have accused ACORN and two former top officials of using an illegal incentive system to motivate people registering voters just before the heated 2008 presidential election.

ACORN officials blame such woes on a conservative push to force the organization out of business.

Amy Schur, ACORN’s head organizer for California, acknowledged that the organization has had a tough year but said that the state’s 12 offices would survive. Membership is up and funding has been stable, she said.

“Our organization is under attack,” she said. “But we’re going to come out of this just fine.”

Schur said the decentralized nature of ACORN ensures that if an office in one part of the country founders, it won’t necessarily affect those in the rest of the country.

Still, Schur said, she has taken steps to quell any public uneasiness. Schur said the organization has hired an independent auditor to review the finances of the state’s programs and will require more staff training.

John Atlas, a writer who just completed a book about the history of ACORN, said the recent scandals had brought “overwhelming bad publicity” to the organization.

“The brand is tainted,” Atlas said. “This is going to make it harder for them to recruit new members, to get foundation funding and get funding for voter registration.”

But Atlas said ACORN had weathered a lot in its history, and he predicted that the organization would emerge from the scandals smaller but intact.

“They may have to shrink back; they may have to rebrand,” he said. “They’ll be smaller, but they’ll survive.”

Latrell Smith, a former ACORN worker in Chicago and now an organizer for Action Now, said the scandals had been sobering and infuriating

In his current job, he is more cautious when talking with families that approach him for help.

“I joined ACORN because I wanted to make a difference in my community,” Smith said. “Before the videos came out, I could never have imagined something like that happening in ACORN.”

Now, he said, “I wonder if we could be next.”

Los Angeles Times staff writers Huffstutter reported from Chicago and Linthicum from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Ashley Powers in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Missouri Officials Suspect Fake Voter Registration

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Officials in Missouri, a hard-fought jewel in the presidential race, are sifting through possibly hundreds of questionable or duplicate voter-registration forms submitted by an advocacy group that has been accused of election fraud in other states.

Charlene Davis, co-director of the election board in Jackson County, where Kansas City is, said the fraudulent registration forms came from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. She said they were bogging down work Wednesday, the final day Missourians could register to vote.

“I don’t even know the entire scope of it because registrations are coming in so heavy,” Davis said. “We have identified about 100 duplicates, and probably 280 addresses that don’t exist, people who have driver’s license numbers that won’t verify or Social Security numbers that won’t verify. Some have no address at all.”

The nonpartisan group works to recruit low-income voters, who tend to lean Democratic. Most polls show Republican presidential candidate John McCain with an edge in bellwether Missouri, but Democrat Barack Obama continues to put up a strong fight.

Jess Ordower, Midwest director of ACORN, said his group hasn’t done any registrations in Kansas City since late August. He said he was told three weeks ago by election officials that there were only about 135 questionable cards — 85 of them duplicates.

“They keep telling different people different things,” he said. “They gave us a list of 130, then told someone else it was 1,000.”

FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said the agency has been in contact with elections officials about potential voter fraud and plans to investigate.

“It’s a matter we take very seriously,” Patton said. “It is against the law to register someone to vote who does not fall within the parameters to vote, or to put someone on there falsely.”

On Tuesday, authorities in Nevada seized records from ACORN after finding fraudulent registration forms that included the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys.

In April, eight ACORN workers in St. Louis city and county pleaded guilty to federal election fraud for submitting false registration cards for the 2006 election. U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway said they submitted cards with false addresses and names, and forged signatures.

Ordower said Wednesday that ACORN registered about 53,500 people in Missouri this year. He believes his group is being targeted because some politicians don’t want that many low-income people having a voice.

“It’s par for the course,” he said. “When you’re doing more registrations than anyone else in the country, some don’t want low-income people being empowered to vote. There are pretty targeted attacks on us, but we’re proud to be out there doing the patriotic thing getting people registered to vote.”

Republicans are among ACORN’s loudest critics. At a campaign stop in Bethlehem, Pa., supporters of John McCain interrupted his remarks Wednesday by shouting, “No more ACORN.”

Debbie Mesloh, spokeswoman for the Obama campaign in Missouri, said in an e-mailed statement that the campaign supported any investigation of possible fraud.

According to its national Web site, the group has registered 1.3 million people nationwide for the Nov. 4 election. It also has encountered complaints of fraud stemming from registration efforts in Wisconsin, New Mexico, Nevada and battleground states like Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina, where new voter registrations have favored Democrats nearly 4 to 1 since the beginning of this year.

Missouri offers 11 electoral votes; the presidential candidates need at least 270 to win the election.

 

States’ Actions to Block Voters

By IAN URBINA

Article courtesy of the New York Times

Published: October 8, 2008

Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law, according to a review of state records and Social Security data by The New York Times.

The actions do not seem to be coordinated by one party or the other, nor do they appear to be the result of election officials intentionally breaking rules, but are apparently the result of mistakes in the handling of the registrations and voter files as the states tried to comply with a 2002 federal law, intended to overhaul the way elections are run.

Still, because Democrats have been more aggressive at registering new voters this year, according to state election officials, any heightened screening of new applications may affect their party’s supporters disproportionately. The screening or trimming of voter registration lists in the six states — Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina — could also result in problems at the polls on Election Day: people who have been removed from the rolls are likely to show up only to be challenged by political party officials or election workers, resulting in confusion, long lines and heated tempers.

Some states allow such voters to cast provisional ballots. But they are often not counted because they require added verification.

Although much attention this year has been focused on the millions of new voters being added to the rolls by the candidacy of Senator Barack Obama, there has been far less notice given to the number of voters being dropped from those same rolls.

States have been trying to follow the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and remove the names of voters who should no longer be listed; but for every voter added to the rolls in the past two months in some states, election officials have removed two, a review of the records shows.

The six swing states seem to be in violation of federal law in two ways. Michigan and Colorado are removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election, which is not allowed except when voters die, notify the authorities that they have moved out of state, or have been declared unfit to vote.

Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio seem to be improperly using Social Security data to verify registration applications for new voters.

In addition to the six swing states, three more states appear to be violating federal law. Alabama and Georgia seem to be improperly using Social Security information to screen registration applications from new voters. And Louisiana appears to have removed thousands of voters after the federal deadline for taking such action.

Under federal law, election officials are supposed to use the Social Security database to check a registration application only as a last resort, if no record of the applicant is found on state databases, like those for driver’s licenses or identification cards.

The requirement exists because using the federal database is less reliable than the state lists, and is more likely to incorrectly flag applications as invalid. Many state officials seem to be using the Social Security lists first.

In the year ending Sept. 30, election officials in Nevada, for example, used the Social Security database more than 740,000 times to check voter files or registration applications and found more than 715,000 nonmatches, federal records show. Election officials in Georgia ran more than 1.9 million checks on voter files or voter registration applications and found more than 260,000 nonmatches.

Officials of the Social Security Administration, presented with those numbers, said they were far too high to be cases where names were not in state databases. They said the data seem to represent a violation of federal law and the contract the states signed with the agency to use the database.

Last week, after the inquiry by The Times, Michael J. Astrue, the commissioner of the Social Security Administration, alerted the Justice Department to the problem and sent letters to election officials in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio. The letters ask the officials to ensure that they are complying with federal law.

“It is absolutely essential that people entitled to register to vote are allowed to do so,” Mr. Astrue said in a press release.

In three states — Colorado, Louisiana and Michigan — the number of people purged from the election rolls since Aug. 1 far exceeds the number who may have died or relocated during that period.

States may be improperly removing voters who have moved within the state, election experts said, or who are considered inactive because they have failed to vote in two consecutive federal elections. For example, major voter registration drives have been held this year in Colorado, which has also had a significant population increase since the last presidential election, but the state has recorded a net loss of nearly 100,000 voters from its rolls since 2004.

Asked about the appearance of voter law violations, Rosemary E. Rodriguez, the chairwoman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, which oversees elections, said they could present “extremely serious problems.”

Skip to next paragraph“The law is pretty clear about how states can use Social Security information to screen registrations and when states can purge their rolls,” Ms. Rodriguez said.

Nevada officials said the large number of Social Security checks had resulted from county clerks entering Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers in the wrong fields before records were sent to the state. They could not estimate how many records might have been affected by the problem, but they said it was corrected several weeks ago.

Other states described similar problems in entering data.

Under the Help America Vote Act, all states were required to build statewide electronic voter registration lists to standardize and centralize voter records that had been kept on the local level. To prevent ineligible voters from casting a ballot, states were also required to clear the electronic lists of duplicates, people who had died or moved out of state, or who had become ineligible for other reasons.

Voting rights groups and federal election officials have raised concerns that the methods used to add or remove names vary by state and are conducted with little oversight or transparency. Many states are purging their lists for the first time and appear to be unfamiliar with the 2002 federal law.

“Just as voting machines were the major issue that came out of the 2000 presidential election and provisional ballots were the big issue from 2004, voter registration and these statewide lists will be the top concern this year,” said Daniel P. Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University.

Voting rights groups have urged voters to check their registrations with local officials.

In Michigan, some 33,000 voters were removed from the rolls in August, a figure that is far higher than the number of deaths in the state during the same period — about 7,100 — or the number of people who moved out of the state — about 4,400, according to data from the Postal Service.

In Colorado, some 37,000 people were removed from the rolls in the three weeks after July 21. During that time, about 5,100 people moved out of the state and about 2,400 died, according to postal data and death records.

In Louisiana, at least 18,000 people were dropped from the rolls in the five weeks after July 23. Over the same period, at least 1,600 people moved out of state and at least 3,300 died.

The secretaries of state in Michigan and Colorado did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the Louisiana secretary of state said that about half of the numbers of the voters removed from the rolls were people who moved within the state or who died. The remaining 11,000 or so people seem to have been removed by local officials for other reasons that were not clear, the spokesman said.

The purge estimates were calculated using data from state election officials, who produce a snapshot every month or so of the voter rolls with details about each registered voter on record, making it possible to determine how many have been removed.

The Times’s methodology for calculating the purge estimates was reviewed by two voting experts, Kimball Brace, the director of Election Data Services, a Washington consulting firm that tracks voting trends, and R. Michael Alvarez, a political science professor at the California Institute of Technology.

By using the Social Security database so extensively, states are flagging extra registrations and creating extra work for local officials who are already struggling to process all the registration applications by Election Day.

“I simply don’t have the staff to keep up,” said Ann McFall, the supervisor of elections in Volusia County, Fla.

It takes 10 minutes to process a normal registration and up to a week to deal with a flagged one, said Ms. McFall, a Republican, adding that she was receiving 100 or so flagged registrations a week.

Usually, when state election officials check a registration and find that it does not match a database entry, they alert local election officials to contact the voter and request further proof of identification. If that is not possible, most states flag the voter file and require identification from the voter at the polling place.

In Florida, Iowa, Louisiana and South Dakota, the problem is more serious because voters are not added to the rolls until the states remove the flags.

Ms. McFall said she was angry to learn from the state recently that it was her responsibility to contact each flagged voter to clear up the discrepancies before Election Day. “This situation with voter registrations is going to land us in court,” she said.

In fact, it already has.

In Michigan and Florida, rights groups are suing state officials, accusing them of being too aggressive in purging voter rolls and of preventing people from registering.

In Georgia, the Justice Department is considering legal action against the state because officials in Cobb and Cherokee Counties sent letters to hundreds of voters stating that their voter registrations had been flagged and telling them they cannot vote until they clear up the discrepancy.

On Monday, the Ohio Republican Party filed a motion in federal court against the secretary of state to get the list of all names that have been flagged by the Social Security database since Jan. 1. The motion seeks to require that any voter who does not clear up a discrepancy be required to vote using a provisional ballot.

Republicans said in the motion that it is central to American democracy that nonqualified voters be forbidden from voting.

The Ohio secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, said in court papers that she believes the Republicans are seeking grounds to challenge voters and get them removed from the rolls.

Considering that in the past year the state received nearly 290,000 nonmatches, such a plan could have significant impact at the polls.

Article courtesy of the New York Times

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All Voter Fraud Instances Under Investigation By Milwaukee Officials Are Linked To “Two Liberal Groups” – ACORN And The Community Voters Project.

All Voter Fraud Instances Under Investigation By Milwaukee Officials Are Linked To “Two Liberal Groups” – ACORN And The Community Voters Project. “Milwaukee’s election chief on Wednesday turned 32 more voter registration workers in to the district attorney’s office for possible prosecution, saying they tried to submit falsified registration cards. That brings to 39 the number of registration workers under scrutiny, and the number could grow, Election Commission Executive Director Sue Edman said. An organization warned the commission staff late Wednesday afternoon about some questionable cards in the latest batch collected by its workers, Edman said. All of the workers targeted for investigation were paid employees of two liberal groups running voter registration drives, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the Community Voters Project.” (Larry Sandler, “More Voter Registration Workers Under Scrutiny,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/21/08)

Milwaukee Election Officials Launched An Investigation Against ACORN For “Making People Up Or Registering People That Were Still In Prison

“Criminal investigations could be launched against at least six voter registration workers who tried to add dead, imprisoned or imaginary people to the voter rolls, according to the Milwaukee Election Commission and the organization that employed them. Officials are reviewing some 200 to 300 fraudulent voter registration cards, Sue Edman, the commission’s executive director, said Wednesday. … In about 12 cases, deputy registrars paid by ACORN were ‘making people up or registering people that were still in prison,’ said Carolyn Castore, ACORN’s state political director. And in other cases, workers used the same address for numerous voters or used driver’s license numbers that did not fit the voters’ birth dates, Edman said. But most of the fraud involved submitting duplicate cards for voters who were already registered, and forging the voters’ signatures, Castore said.” (Larry Sandler, “Fake Names Get Voter Registration Workers Investigated,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/7/08)

One Pennsylvania ACORN Worker Is Facing “19 Counts Of Perjury, Making False Statements, Forgery And Identity Theft” Related To Voter Registration Forms.

One Pennsylvania ACORN Worker Is Facing “19 Counts Of Perjury, Making False Statements, Forgery And Identity Theft” Related To Voter Registration Forms. “A former temporary worker for a national community action group recently questioned by Dauphin County investigators about bogus voter registration forms is now a wanted man. Luis R. Torres-Serrano, 37, of the 200 block of South 15th Street, is accused by authorities of submitting more than 100 fraudulent voter registration forms he collected on behalf of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now to county election officials. … Torres-Serrano is charged with 19 counts of perjury, making false statements, forgery and identity theft in connection with the voter registration forms, authorities said.” (Reggie Sheffield, “Former Temp Worker Accused Of Bogus Voter Registrations,”[Harrisburg, PA] Patriot News, 7/24/08)

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Election Officials Accused ACORN “Of Filing Fraudulent Voter Registrations” But The Group Blames The Post Office.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Election Officials Accused ACORN “Of Filing Fraudulent Voter Registrations” But The Group Blames The Post Office. “Philadelphia elections officials are accusing the nonprofit advocacy group ‘Acorn’ of filing fraudulent voter registrations in advance of the April 22nd Pennsylvania primary. Acorn, which advocates on behalf of low-income residents in the city, has mounted a voter registration drive in the past few months. But city election commissioners are complaining that many of the submitted registrations appear to be faulty, and they have forwarded the matter to the district attorney’s office for further investigation. … The city officials say many of the addresses listed on the registrations are invalid, but Acorn blames the post office for not adequately servicing low-income communities.” (Mike Dunn, “Phila. Probing Advocacy Group’s Voter Registrations,” KYW Newsradio, www.kyw1060.com, 3/12/08)