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November 26, 2014

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Election ’08 :

Fraud probe worries champions of black vote

Investigation of ACORN could dampen turnout, experts say

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Leila Navidi

Staff members and volunteers with the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now chant outside the group’s Las Vegas offices Tuesday after state agents carted away documents as part of an investigation of the organization’s voter registration practices.

Related story: Las Vegas office raided in voter fraud probe

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Beyond the Sun

An investigation into possible voter registration fraud announced Tuesday might discourage blacks from going to the polls, experts said.

Agents with the Nevada secretary of state’s office emptied Tuesday morning the Las Vegas offices of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, carting off boxes and computer records in pursuit of information about illegal registration practices, such as filing voter forms under the names of Dallas Cowboys football players.

Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax said the group started registering voters locally in January and “we started having problems with them almost immediately.”

His staff met with ACORN to discuss the problems and the organizers said they had put controls in place, “but those controls weren’t sufficient,” Lomax said. “For example, they bragged they fired over 400 people.”

In a presidential election that may be the most important for minority voters in U.S. history, ACORN was attempting to register members of minority groups whose registration rates have lagged.

So what could the ongoing problems of a high-profile group such as ACORN mean?

Frank Beaty, an ACORN volunteer who showed up in the minutes following the Tuesday morning search, alleged a conspiracy against the group’s effort to empower the disenfranchised.

Rainier Spencer, chairman of the African-American studies program at UNLV, said that idea is easy to find in the black community. “Their perception is, ‘They’re always coming down on us’ ... and they think, ‘Whatever we do, they’re going to stop us from voting.’ ”

So the people ACORN is targeting — minorities who may need help registering to vote because they’re not sure whether they’re eligible because of criminal records or not having driver’s licenses, for example — could be intimidated by ACORN’s troubles. (In Nevada, state law allows some former felons to vote.)

The investigation of ACORN mirrors at least 10 others involving the group nationwide in recent years, some of which have resulted in indictments.

Steven Carbo, senior program director at Demos, a research and advocacy group that works on voting rights and election reform, said the string of cases involving ACORN may turn off black voters.

“My fear is that for disaffected voters of color who don’t feel like political leaders are looking out for their interests, this will reinforce their disaffection,” he said.

“The idea is, ‘The man doesn’t want me to vote, and he’s targeting groups that are trying to help me.’ ”

Charles D. Jackson, an ACORN spokesman, said from New Orleans that the cases of proven fraud involved “rogue employees.” Those cases include a 2007 federal indictment handed down in Kansas City, Mo., after an ACORN employee admitted that he had falsified information on a registration form; felony charges filed the same year in Seattle after ACORN employees filled out forms with names from phone books; and recent complaints from Detroit municipal clerks who said ACORN is turning in the same names on multiple registration forms.

But, Carbo notes, none of these or other cases resulted in someone voting that shouldn’t have, or someone who should have been able to vote not being able to do so.

ACORN this week announced that it had concluded “the most successful voter registration drive in history,” with more than 1.3 million voters in 21 states. Chris Edwards, who works with the local group, said the Las Vegas ACORN effort had registered 90,000 voters since January.

Launce Rake, spokesman for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada — a group that has registered minorities across the state — said he hopes the investigation doesn’t dampen spirits come Election Day.

“We hope no ... legitimate voter is discouraged from voting and that people across the political spectrum join us in that hope.”

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