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Picking on ACORN

There's no evidence of wrongdoing to support the California Republican Party's call for an audit of group's voter registration efforts.

September 25, 2009

There has been a lot of outrage over the videotapes that show workers for ACORN, the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now, offering a couple posing as a prostitute and a pimp some advice on how to expand their "business" with government funding. Congress voted to cut off federal money to ACORN, and there are various probes into its funding and activities. This page chided the group for tarnishing the name of grass-roots organizers everywhere.

But that doesn't mean every gleeful anti-ACORN attack is on the mark. For example, the California Republican Party took the opportunity to call for a "full and complete forensic audit" of all voter registration cards solicited or submitted by ACORN or its representatives.

The state GOP should sit down and take a breath. There is an important distinction to be drawn between ACORN's voter registration efforts, which we commend, and its counseling services, which have some serious problems. The group was in the news last year because about a third of the voters it signed up turned out to be nonexistent, but don't forget the rest of the story: That 1-out-of-3 rate is on a par with all registration efforts for first-time voters -- and not necessarily through the fault of those doing the work.

ACORN, in other words, is no better or worse than most others in registration, except in this: It signs up far more people, both the valid and, it stands to reason, the non-valid. By all means, there should be tighter controls to prevent fraudulent registrations, but there is no evidence to warrant a new voter registration probe.

The state GOP this week announced a registration drive of its own, funded by gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, complete with a $3 bounty on each valid signature. A scandal in the making? No. Like it or not, it's not illegal to pay for new voters, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, and whether the signature gatherers are paid by an activist organization or the former head of EBay. Slam ACORN for counseling pretend criminals. But if the group is also registering voters who don't tend to pick Republicans, well, sorry GOP, but that's not a crime.

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