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Columbia Missourian

ACORN defends efforts amid voter-fraud allegations

By Ann Sanner/The Associated Press
October 14, 2008 | 5:18 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — An activist organization on Tuesday defended its voter registration practices amid new allegations of voter fraud and a call from Republican lawmakers to investigate irregularities.

In Ohio, Democrat Barack Obama told reporters that the GOP should not use the group's registration problems as an excuse to keep voters from turning out on Election Day.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, has registered 1.3 million young people, minorities and poor and working-class voters, the group says.

Some of those registration cards have become the focus of fraud investigations in Missouri, Connecticut, Nevada and at least five other states. Election officials in Ohio and North Carolina also recently questioned the group's voter forms.

More than 13,000 workers in 21 states recruited less-fortunate voters, who tend to be Democrats.

"The vast, vast majority were dedicated workers," ACORN spokesman Kevin Whelan said at a news conference on Tuesday. "They did something remarkable in bringing all these new voters."

ACORN's response came as Republican John McCain's campaign ratcheted up the pressure on Obama to join forces with Republicans to combat voter fraud and intimidation during the Nov. 4 election.

Former Missouri Sen. John Danforth, a Republican who co-chairs a McCain committee on voter fraud, said Tuesday he's concerned that the upcoming election might be "even worse" than the 2000 presidential race. In that election, a controversy over hanging chads forced the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the contest in favor of George W. Bush over Al Gore.

"We don't think that the cause of an honest and open election is the particular province of the McCain campaign or the Republicans," Danforth said at a news conference. "But we think that this is of interest to both political parties. Both should want finality on Election Day, and both should want an election which is beyond reasonable dispute."

Last month, Danforth and former Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., wrote to Obama campaign manager David Plouffe to propose forming a bipartisan team to monitor polling sites where the campaigns anticipated problems with fraud or intimidation.

But Plouffe said Tuesday he had rejected the offer as a "strategic and cynical ploy" to depress voter turnout.

On Monday, election officials in Ohio's most populous county asked a prosecutor to investigate multiple registrations by four people who signed up through ACORN. One voter said he signed 73 voter registration forms over a five-month period.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections is reviewing suspect voter forms from at least two counties.

Meanwhile, House Republicans have also renewed their push for the Justice Department to investigate the group. On Friday, six GOP leaders wrote to Attorney General Michael Mukasey to urge him to make sure ballots by ineligible or fraudulent voters are not counted on Nov. 4.

A law enforcement official said ACORN has been on the radar of federal investigators. But the official would not say whether an investigation has been opened, and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue so close to the presidential election.

Whelan said ACORN staffers separate applications with missing or false information and flag them for election officials. All applications, including problematic cards, are handed in because some state laws require it, he said.

Whelan said he did not know how many registration cards had problems but believed it was a small percentage. He was unsure how many workers were fired for purposely turning in duplicates or applications with fake information, he said.

"If they look false, we identify them as such," Whelan said of the forms.

ACORN has been drawn into a back-and-forth between the presidential campaigns.

McCain's campaign said Obama should rein in ACORN's efforts in order to fight voter fraud. The campaign accuses the Democratic presidential candidate of having close ties to the group.

Obama and two other lawyers in 1995 represented ACORN in a lawsuit against the state of Illinois to make voter registration easier. During this year's primary, Obama hired a firm with ties to the group for a massive get-out-the-vote effort.

Obama told reporters on Tuesday that ACORN was not advising his campaign on voter registration.

Last week, McCain called for a federal investigation of the organization during a campaign rally. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, has said Obama's connection to the activist group should be investigated.

"This is another one of those distractions that get stirred up during the campaign," Obama said.