So far, lacking an "October Surprise" that will dramatically turn the election in their favor, Republicans are gradually shifting their attention from William Ayers, "an old washed up terrorist " in the 1960s, to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN.
At the GOP national convention in St. Paul, former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani and Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin took delight in mocking Barack Obama as a "community organizer." Trailing in most major polls and connected to George W. Bush like Velcro, John McCain has stepped up the attack in the final presidential debate by linking Obama to ACORN.
McCain claimed that ACORN "is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.''
In an attempt to tarnish ACORN, McCain and his GOP allies are hoping that we will not be able to see the forest for the acorns. But ACORN is no stranger to poor people or African-Americans.
As Maude Hurd – the African-American president of ACORN – noted, "ACORN has been building organizations and developing leadership among low- and moderate-income residents in neighborhoods throughout the United States for 38 years."
The independent FactCheck.org noted, "Neither ACORN nor its employees have been found guilty of, or even charged with, casting fraudulent votes. What a McCain-Palin Web ad calls 'voter fraud' is actually voter registration fraud. Several ACORN canvassers have been found guilty of faking registration forms and others are being investigated. But the evidence that has surfaced so far shows they faked forms to get paid for work they didn't do, not to stuff ballot boxes."
Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP, was even more pointed.
"No one believes registration authorities will let 'Mickey Mouse' or 'Elvis Presley' vote," he said at a press conference called to support ACORN. "But surely some partisans believe that they can prevent qualified voters from registering or casting their legitimate votes, that they can frighten voters away from the polls, and that they can win elections through their own fraud and deceit and trickery."
Bond added, "We think the American people are too smart for that."
ACORN makes its own case on its Web site, www.acorn.org. Among the "key facts" listed by ACORN:
* In order to help 1.3 million people register to vote, we hired more than 13,000 registration assistance workers. As with any business or agency that operates at this scale, there are always some people who want to get paid without really doing the job, or who aim to defraud their employer.
* Any large voter registration operation will have a small percentage of workers who turn in bogus registration forms. Their goal clearly is not to cast a fraudulent vote. It is simply to defraud their employer, ACORN, by getting a paycheck without earning it. ACORN is the victim of this fraud – not the perpetrator.
* In nearly every case that has been reported, it was ACORN that discovered the bad forms, and called them to the attention of election authorities, putting the forms in a package that identified them in writing as suspicious, encouraging election officials to investigate, and offering to help with prosecutions.
* This has nothing to do with 'voter fraud' – nothing at all to do with anyone trying to cast an extra vote. There has never been a single reported instance in which bogus registration forms have led to anyone voting improperly. To do that, they would have to show up at the polls, prove their identity as all first-time registrants must, and risk jail. The people who turned in these forms did so not because they wanted an extra vote, but because they didn't care enough to make sure eligible people got to vote at all.
• The goals of the people orchestrating these attacks are to distract ACORN from helping people vote and to justify massive voter suppression. That's the real voter fraud; the noise about a small fraction of the forms ACORN has turned in is meant to get the press and public take their eyes off the real threat, while those hurling the charges are stealing people's right to vote in broad daylight. They have already tried to prevent Ohio from registering voters at its early voting sites. In Michigan, they planned to use foreclosure notices to challenge thousands of voters. And if this year is like past years, they are preparing to use this so-called voter fraud to justify massive challenges to voters in minority precincts on Election Day.
A report by Project Vote put it best: "The claim that voter fraud threatens the integrity of American elections is itself a fraud."
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.