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November 19, 2009

some balance, please, on ACORN

I've been critical of ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) for its internal financial scandals and for its hard-edged, rather scripted mobilizing strategy which I have often observed to conflict with the kind of diverse, asset-based, skill-building, relational organizing that I admire more.

Still, the current criticisms of ACORN are ridiculously overblown. Because I am a federal grantee, my inbox contains a stern message not to let any of our federal money go to ACORN. That's because of an act of Congress that specifically names the organization and denies it all funds. I think such legislation is an unconstitutional bill of attainder, because Congress has penalized an individual organization without a trial. It passed the House by 232-178 and the Senate by 67-25.

Meanwhile, you can find daily accusations that ACORN steals elections. For instance, Doug Hoffman, the conservative Republican candidate in New York's 23 congressional district, claims that ACORN has been "scheming behind closed doors, twisting arms and stealing elections from the voters," thus allowing Democrat Bill Owens to claim more votes. If you Google the words "acorn steal obama election," you get 2,510,000 hits.

As far as I can tell, these accusations all stem from the fact that ACORN has submitted false names on voter registration lists--for instance, Mickey Mouse and the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys. That's because ACORN pays canvassers, and some of those canvassers try to cheat by filling their sheets with made-up names. ACORN is then required to submit the whole sheet (including the transparently fake names), because if an organization could cross off names, it could disenfranchise real voters. ACORN has flagged the obvious fake entries for special attention by elections officials. In any case, the only victim here is ACORN; Mickey Mouse is not going to vote.

Overall, ACORN does not represent my favorite style of organizing. But it is being relentlessly attacked for different reasons--because it represents poor people, and because it has network ties to Barack Obama and many other national Democrats.

Our system for voter registration is unconscionably complicated and difficult, and that's just an example of bureaucratic systems that make life hard for all Americans and especially for poor people who have rights to specific services. A lot of ACORN's work involves signing them up for their legal rights, including their right to vote. We shouldn't be picking on them for that reason.

[PS: "A new Public Policy Pollling survey finds that 52% of Republican voters nationally think that ACORN stole the Presidential election for Barack Obama last year, with only 27% granting that he won it legitimately."]

November 19, 2009 10:43 AM | category: none



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