After waging what has been hailed as the largest voter-registration drive in U.S. history, the community organizing organization ACORN has suffered a series of character attacks, threats and office break-ins around the country.
The group's Burien office was robbed of $300 in cash and other valuables Friday night. Local police told The New York Times it was probably a "run-of-the-mill-burglary."
The break-in was the latest in a chain of events set off by comments made last Wednesday night by Sen. John McCain during the last televised presidential debate with Sen. Barack Obama
McCain said the 38-year-old advocacy group "may be destroying the fabric of democracy" by "perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country."
His charges appeared to touch on reports that, out of 1.3 million voters registering with the help of ACORN members, an alleged 10,000 – less than 1 percent of the total – included falsified registration cards.
The cards had been discovered by ACORN staff and turned in to elections officials for investigation.
ACORN spokesmen said that 13,000 workers were hired to staff the registration drive, and the fake names a few workers signed onto cards constitute fraud against ACORN, not the elections process.
"ACORN has a zero tolerance policy and terminated any field workers caught engaging in questionable activity," the group said in a statement.
Last Thursday, ACORN's Washington State President John Jones issued a statement in response to Sen. McCain's attack, suggesting the candidate's comments last week were both desperate and destructive.
"These attacks reflect an increasingly panicked candidate," Jones said. "Unfortunately the Senator McCain we saw tonight is very different than the Senator McCain who stood shoulder to shoulder with ACORN at a February 20, 2006 immigration reform event."
Jones said McCain was "for ACORN before he was against ACORN," and was "a maverick before he became erratic."
Jones charged the McCain campaign with elections dirty tricks.
"What is really going here is that Senator McCain and his allies are part of a coordinated effort to engage in what appears to be an unprecedented effort to suppress voter turnout," Jones said. "Repeating a lie doesn't make it true, and the McCain campaign has resorted to the worst type of deceptions in regards to ACORN."
On Friday, an ACORN organizer in Cleveland, Ohio, received a death threat, as did another in Providence, R.I. who was also reportedly subjected to racial epithets, and the group's Boston and Seattle offices were vandalized. In Boston, the organization's computers were stolen.
And on Saturday, a 58-year-old Barack Obama campaign canvasser was violently assaulted in Caledonia, Wisc. by a homeowner who accused her of being an ACORN volunteer.
Also known as the Association for Community Reform Now, ACORN is a national organization with local offices running housing programs, anti-poverty and voting rights projects. The Seattle-area chapter has recently been active in helping homeowners avoid foreclosure, as well as voter registration.
Seattle activists say they've run a "flawless" voter registration effort for years, adding 40,000 voters to the rolls since 2000.
The group argues that filling out invalid voter registration cards does not legally constitute voter fraud. "Even RNC General Counsel Sean Cairncross has recently acknowledged he is not aware of a single improper vote cast as a result of bad cards submitted in the course of an organized voter registration effort," the group's statement said.
Rather, registration fraud encompasses the use of fraudulent document to actually cast a vote, such as attempting to satisfy photo identification requirements with fake ID.
The group says that, in most states, ACORN is required by law to turn in every voter registration card, even in cases where the cards are not valid.
Meanwhile, organizers say the best way for local residents to support community efforts to help low-income households work through the new food stamp regulations, obtain anti-foreclosure counseling and voting rights is to call their local offices and volunteer. In Everett, the number is 425-259-5148; in Seattle, 206-723-5845; Tacoma, 253-572-4959. On the web go to www.acorn.org.