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Context of 'October 14, 2008: Community Organization Under Fire for Alleged Fraudulent Voter Registrations'

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The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), or the “Motor Voter” Bill, signed into law by President Clinton, increases opportunities for voter registration. It particularly impacts minority and low-income voters. The NVRA requires states to provide for voter registration by mail, to allow voters to register when they receive driver’s licenses, and to allow voter registration at state agencies such as welfare and unemployment offices. The NVRA provides for the Justice Department to use federal courts to ensure compliance, and gives the Federal Election Commission (FEC) the responsibility of helping the 50 states develop mail-in voter registration forms. (In 2002, that responsibility will be shifted to the Election Assistance Commission under the Help America Vote Act—see October 29, 2002.) The NVRA takes effect on January 1, 1995, in all but six states—Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—because they have no voter registration requirements, or they have election-day registration at polling places. Arkansas, Vermont, and Virginia are given extra time to comply with the NVRA because they need to modify their state constitutions. Many states, including California, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, New York, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia, will refuse to comply with the NVRA, and the resulting court cases will establish the constitutionality of the NVRA, and the Justice Department will order the states to drop their objections and comply with the act. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; US Department of Justice, 2012]

Entity Tags: Help America Vote Act, Election Assistance Commission, Federal Election Commission, US Department of Justice, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, National Voter Registration Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Florida, already using controversial and error-ridden “purge lists” to remove tens of thousands of minority voters from the voting rolls (see 1998 and After), uses voting machines and voting procedures to disenfranchise eligible voters. The Florida elections system is grossly underfunded, resulting in the use of obsolete and error-prone machines (disproportionately used in counties with large minority populations), and elections officials lacking fundamental training and even information about their jobs. During most of 2000, county supervisors warn Tallahassee that Florida could expect an unprecedented number of voters on November 7, especially among the black voting community. But Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) and Division of Elections chief Clay Roberts, by their own subsequent testimony, fail to address the problem. Roberts tells Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho, “It’s not that bad.” Thusly on November 7, 2000, many polling places experience massive difficulties. An investigation by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) turns up thousands of voters who are turned away for a number of reasons, including but not limited to being on the purge lists. Some voters who registered are not listed on the voting rolls—many of whom were registered through NAACP efforts to register voters via the “motor voter” procedures (see May 20, 1993). County supervisors calling Tallahassee with questions and problems routinely find themselves unable to get through. Many precincts lack access to central voter rolls to verify questionable registrations. Some voters who are in line to vote at the 7:00 p.m. closing time are told to leave, even though the law mandates that any voter standing in line to vote can vote even if closing time occurs. Florida law also allows voters whose status is questionable to complete affidavit votes that will be counted later after their eligibility is confirmed, but many election workers know nothing of these procedures, and thusly many voters who are eligible to vote via affidavit are not given that opportunity. Many disabled voters find no procedures in place to allow them access to voting machines. Many precincts lack procedures to assist Spanish-speaking voters, including failing to provide bilingual ballots or bilingual poll workers. (The Voting Rights Act of 1965—see August 6, 1965—mandates that such provisions be made at every polling place without exception.) The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund later concludes that several thousand Hispanic voters are disenfranchised because of these failures. Black voters in Leon County complain that the Florida Highway Patrol set up a roadblock that denied them access to their polling place (see 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000); Highway Patrol authorities later admit the existence of the roadblock, but say that it was a routine vehicle inspection checkpoint.
Punch Card Voting - Florida generally uses two voting systems—the more sophisticated computer “optiscan” system, which features ballots where choices are made by “bubbling in” an oval with a pencil and then feeding into a scanner, and the obsolete “punch card” system, which uses “punch cards” where choices are made by a voter “punching” a hole in a card with a stylus and then feeding the card into a scanner. Counties with large African-American populations are disproportionate in having to use the obsolete punch card machines. In four of these counties—Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Duval—over 100,000 votes are discarded due to problems with punching the holes correctly (see November 9, 2000). This total is more than half the discards in the entire state. Of the 19 precincts in the state with the highest rate of discard, 18 are majority-black. Seventy percent of black Floridian voters are forced to use the punch card machines, a percentage far higher than that of other ethnic groups. The NAACP later sues to force Florida to discard punch card machines entirely. The Florida government’s response to the punch-card disenfranchisement can perhaps be best summed up by a statement made by Republican House Speaker Tom Feeney, who responds to a question about the infamous “butterfly ballot” in Palm Beach County (see November 9, 2000) by saying: “Voter confusion is not a reason for whining or crying or having a revote. It may be a reason to require literacy tests.” Literacy tests, a legacy of the Jim Crow era of massive voter discrimination, are unconstitutional (see 1896 and June 8, 1959). [Tapper, 3/2001; Nation, 4/24/2001]
Subsequent Investigation - A later investigation by the progressive news magazine The Nation will document widespread voter disenfranchisement efforts in Florida (see April 24, 2001).

Entity Tags: County of Palm Beach (Florida), County of Madison (Florida), County of Leon (Florida), County of Duval (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), Clay Roberts, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Florida Highway Patrol, Ion Sancho, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Tom Feeney, Linda Howell, Katherine Harris, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

The federal government enacts the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), as signed into law by President Bush. The law provides federal funds to states to improve election administration and to replace outdated or obsolete voting systems. The law also provides minimum standards for states to follow in election administration, and creates the existence of “provisional ballots” for voters to use in disputed circumstances. [U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 2010; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Help America Vote Act of 1992, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US District Court Judge William C. O’Kelley finds that Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, a Democrat currently running for governor, violated voter rights by unlawfully working to block voter registration drives. Cox is also facing criticism of her handling of the state’s electronic voting contract with voting machine manufacturer Diebold. O’Kelley finds that Cox’s “rejection of voter registration applications on the ground that they were submitted in a bundle, or by someone who was not a registrar or deputy registrar, violated the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act, often called the Motor Voter law—see May 20, 1993].” Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a fellow Democrat who has been critical of Cox’s actions, has introduced legislation that would codify the rights of private groups to conduct voter registration in Georgia, even though private groups already have that right. Butler recently told reporters, “These volunteers drive our voter registration in this state and we should make it easier, not harder, on them to help Georgia citizens complete the voter registration process.” She tells another reporter, “Strong voter registration rolls are the very foundation of our democracy and I will continue to fight for the rights of registered Georgians throughout the state.” Many critics say that Cox’s efforts to impede voter registration may have had what the Atlanta Progressive News calls “a disproportionate impact on outreach efforts to low-income individuals, working families, and the homeless, who often need advice about, and assistance with, registering to vote.” Cox was sued by the Wesley Foundation, the nonprofit charitable affiliate of a local chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, an African-American fraternal organization that ran a voter registration drive on June 12, 2004. Cox rejected all 63 voter registration applications submitted to her office from the fraternity, claiming that the fraternity representatives failed to follow proper procedures, including obtaining pre-clearance from her office to conduct the drive. Under the NVRA, the fraternity and other private organizations have the right to conduct voter registration drives without the presence or permission of state or local election officials. O’Kelley’s ruling requires Cox to notify all 159 of Georgia’s county boards of registrars that they are not authorized to reject applications submitted by private voter registration organizers in the future for reasons previously delineated by Cox, and for her to acknowledge to the plaintiffs that they did not engage in improper conduct. [Atlanta Progressive News, 3/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Diebold Systems, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Atlanta Progressive News, Gloria Butler, Cathy Cox, Wesley Foundation, National Voter Registration Act, William C. O’Kelley

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Agents of the Nevada secretary of state and attorney general raid the Nevada office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) on suspicions that ACORN is submitting fraudulent voter registrations, based on an investigation launched by a joint task force between the state’s US Attorney’s office and the FBI. No arrests are made and no charges are laid. [Clark County District Court, 10/6/2008 pdf file] Due to the seizure of computers and files, the office is effectively shut down less than a month before the election. ACORN officials are concerned that the confiscation of their computers will hinder their get-out-the-vote efforts in a key swing state. [Huffington Post, 10/7/2008] ACORN interim Chief Organizer Bertha Lewis responds: “We have zero tolerance for fraudulent registrations. We immediately dismiss employees we suspect of submitting fraudulent registrations.… ACORN met with Clark County [in Las Vegas] elections officials and a representative of the [Nevada] secretary of state on July 17th. ACORN pleaded with them to take our concerns about fraudulent applications seriously.” [ACORN, 10/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Bertha Lewis, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) defends itself against allegations of voter fraud and attempting to overthrow America’s democratic system, allegations stemming largely from Republicans, conservative news organizations, and right-wing talk show hosts. The Associated Press reports that Republican lawmakers are calling for a federal investigation into ACORN’s practices of registering Americans to vote, and cites examples of ACORN filing questionable voter registration forms (see October 14, 2008). Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the Democratic presidential contender, says Republicans should not use any issues with ACORN as an excuse to stop people from voting on Election Day. ACORN has registered some 1.3 million voters, many of them young, minority, or poor citizens, and all of whom tend to vote Democratic. Elections officials in at least eight states are looking into voter fraud allegations leveled against the organization. ACORN spokesperson Kevin Whelan tells reporters that the organization is proud of “the vast, vast majority” of its over 13,000 paid canvassers who worked in 21 states to register voters. “They did something remarkable in bringing all these new voters,” he says. The group has acknowledged that some of its employees may have turned in questionable forms in order to meet their registration goals and continue working with the group, but says it has worked to weed out such problematic forms and has alerted county election officials to potential problems. Whelan says ACORN does not hesitate to fire employees who turn in fraudulent registration forms. Most states require third-party registration organizations such as ACORN to turn in even blatantly fraudulent forms under penalty of law. House Republicans have written to Attorney General Michael Mukasey demanding a Justice Department investigation, and requesting Justice Department help in making sure ballots by what they call “ineligible or fraudulent voters” are not counted on Election Day. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Obama’s Republican opponent, says the Obama campaign should take action to rein in ACORN’s registration efforts in order to combat what he calls “voter fraud,” and notes that Obama represented ACORN in a 1995 lawsuit in Illinois. McCain’s running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), says, “Obama has a responsibility to rein in ACORN and prove that he’s willing to fight voter fraud.” McCain has joined his House Republican colleagues in demanding a federal investigation. Obama says his campaign has no ties to ACORN, and says, “This is another one of those distractions that get stirred up during the campaign.” Recently a conservative Ohio think tank, the Buckeye Institute, filed a lawsuit against ACORN, charging it with criminal corruption under a civil provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which is usually employed against alleged members of organized crime. [Associated Press, 10/14/2008] The liberal media watchdog Media Matters notes that the Associated Press and CNN have both failed to report that Obama was joined by the Justice Department, the League of Women Voters, and the League of United Latin American Citizens in the 1995 lawsuit. The lawsuit was intended to force Illinois to implement the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA—see May 20, 1993), and was found in favor of ACORN and the other plaintiffs. [Media Matters, 10/15/2008] Recently, officials raided the Nevada offices of ACORN in a fruitless attempt to find evidence of voters being fraudulently registered (see October 7, 2008). Independent fact-checkers will soon find allegations of voter registration fraud leveled against ACORN to be entirely baseless (see October 18, 2008).

Entity Tags: Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Buckeye Institute, John McCain, Kevin Whelan, Media Matters, Michael Mukasey

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, runs an article that discusses the ACORN “voter fraud” issue in depth. It states that there is no evidence of the “democracy-destroying fraud” that Republican presidential candidate John McCain accused ACORN of, draws a distinction between voter registration fraud and voter fraud, and acknowledges that true voter fraud is relatively rare, citing a five-year investigation by the Bush administration Department of Justice that found no evidence of organized voter fraud. Dan Satterberg, the Republican prosecutor who handled the largest ACORN voter registration case in the nation, in King County, Washington, in 2006, is quoted saying “this scheme was not intended to permit illegal voting,” and “ACORN is a victim of employee theft.” In its headline and lede, however, the FactCheck article says that McCain’s Democratic rival Barack Obama is “soft-pedal[ing]” his ties with ACORN, placing this on the same level as John McCain’s statement 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.” [Annenberg Political FactCheck, 10/18/2008] The article is also run by Newsweek. [Newsweek, 10/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Dan Satterberg, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, FactCheck (.org), Barack Obama, John McCain

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) launches attacks on Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) in an attempt to throw the Minnesota Senate race recount into doubt. Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) and challenger Al Franken (D-MN) ran for Coleman’s seat in the US Senate, and the results, narrowly favoring Coleman, were challenged by Franken (see November 4-5, 2008). The NRSC distributes a three-page “backgrounder” on Ritchie to reporters that implies Ritchie is letting his political background affect his conduct in administering the recount. Among Ritchie’s “suspicious” activities are his speech at the Democratic convention during the summer, and his having “led a voter registration coalition that included ACORN,” the much-vilified Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (see May 2, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 18, 2008, and October 14, 2008). The NRSC even attempts to imply that Ritchie is a Communist sympathizer in a piece entitled “Communist Party USA Wrote Encouragingly Of His Candidacy.” (On November 19, Fox News’s Andrew Napolitano will call Ritchie a “former Communist” and a “former member of the Communist Party,” but without advancing any proof of the allegations.) According to a report by TPM Muckraker’s Zachary Roth, “there’s no evidence that Ritchie has ever used his role as the state’s top elections administrator to advantage Democrats.” Roth writes that “the point of the GOP gambit… appears to be to cast public doubt on the integrity of the recount process, thereby bolstering Coleman’s claim that’s he’s the rightful winner and that a recount is unnecessary—just the strategy pursued by George Bush’s campaign in Florida in 2000.” [TPM Muckraker, 11/11/2008; Media Matters, 11/20/2008]

Entity Tags: National Republican Senatorial Committee, Al Franken, Andrew Napolitano, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Norm Coleman, Zachary Roth, Communist Party USA, Mark Ritchie

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

An unsigned op-ed in the Wall Street Journal accuses the Senate campaign of Al Franken (D-MN) of voter fraud. Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) are locked in a race that was too close to call, and are awaiting the results of a recount (see November 4-5, 2008). Since then, the Coleman campaign (see November 10, 2008) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC—see November 11, 2008) have implied a variety of wrongdoings, including underhanded ballot tally manipulation, partisan bias, and even shadowy connections to the Communist Party. Some Democrats, the Journal states, are engaged in “stealing a Senate seat for left-wing joker Al Franken.” The Journal reiterates a claim by Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak that the director of the Minneapolis Board of Elections forgot to count 32 absentee ballots that she had left in her car. The Coleman campaign attempted to get a judge to stop those ballots from being added to the total, the Journal states, but the judge refused to do so. The Journal also records a number of statistically “unusual” or “improbable” vote tally shifts that have combined to shave Coleman’s initial 725-vote lead to just over 200. The Journal joins Coleman and the NRSC in attacking Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN), whose office is overseeing the upcoming recount. It cites Ritchie’s own run for office in 2006, which was supported by, among others, liberal activist group MoveOn.org, and says Ritchie is “an ally” of “the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, of fraudulent voter-registration fame” (see May 2, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 18, 2008, and October 14, 2008). Ritchie’s “relationship” with ACORN, the Journal states, “might explain why prior to the election Mr. Ritchie waved off evidence of thousands of irregularities on Minnesota voter rolls, claiming that accusations of fraud were nothing more than ‘desperateness’ from Republicans.” The Journal expands its accusations to include the Franken campaign, which it says is “mau-mauing election officials into accepting tossed ballots.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/12/2008; MinnPost, 11/12/2008] The same day as the Journal op-ed is published, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) repeats the allegation about the absentee ballots being left overnight in an election official’s car, telling a Fox News reporter: “As I understand it, and this is based on news accounts, he claims that even though they were in his car, that they were never outside of his security or area of control, so the courts allowed that. It seems a little loose to me.” Asked by a Fox reporter, “What were they doing in his car?” Pawlenty replies: “There has not been a good explanation for that, Kelly. That’s a very good question, but they’ve been included in the count pile which is concerning.” Pawlenty mischaracterizes the gender of the Minneapolis Elections Director, Cindy Reichert. Reichert also says the entire story is “just not true.” The story comes from Knaak, who initially told reporters, “We were actually told ballots had been riding around in her car for several days, which raised all kinds of integrity questions.” By the day’s end, Knaak backs away from the claim of impropriety. A local outlet reports, “Knaak said he feels assured that what was going on with the 32 ballots was neither wrong nor unfair.” Reichert says that Knaak’s story is entirely false. No ballots were ever left in her car, nor were they left unattended in anyone else’s car. They were secured between Election Night and when they were counted. They were briefly in an election official’s car, along with every other absentee ballot, as they were all driven from individual precincts to polling places as mandated by Minnesota election law. “What I find ludicrous is that this goes on all around the state,” Reichert says. “If we could process them [at City Hall] we’d love to do that.” The absentee ballots were transported, sorted, and counted according to standard elections procedures, Reichert says. The 32 ballots in question were not counted until November 8, and both the Coleman and Franken campaigns were informed that the ballots were not included in the initial Minneapolis tallies. The tally for those 32 ballots: Franken 18, Coleman seven, and seven for other candidates or for no one. [MinnPost, 11/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Tim Pawlenty, Fox News, Cindy Reichert, Al Franken, Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman, Mark Ritchie, Wall Street Journal, National Republican Senatorial Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Judge Robert Hinkle.Judge Robert Hinkle. [Source: Eddie Curran]US District Judge Robert Hinkle rejects an attempt by the US Department of Justice to block Florida’s attempted purge of what it calls non-citizens, in part because Florida has temporarily suspended the purge. Hinkle says that federal law prohibiting the systematic removal of voters in the months before an election does not apply to non-citizens. Hinkle also accepts Florida’s assurance that it has ended its purge efforts. The Justice Department argued that the purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA—see May 20, 1993), which makes it illegal to perform what the law calls a systematic removal of voters before a federal election. Florida’s primary will be held on August 14. In 2011, Florida’s state motor vehicle agency created a database of some 2,600 people whose citizenship was determined to be “questionable,” but county election supervisors stopped using the database to remove voters from their rolls after concluding the list was unreliable and contained the names of many eligible voters. Justice Department lawyer John Bert Ross called Florida’s effort to purge “non-citizens” a “dragnet” that illegally forces US citizens to prove their legitimacy, though Ross was unable to cite an instance of a legitimate voter being removed from the voting rolls. Ross asked Hinkle to restore the voting rights of everyone purged from the voting rolls, a request that Hinkle rejected, saying: “Leaving ineligible voters on the list is not a solution. Non-citizens should not be voting. People need to know we are running an honest election.” The Florida Secretary of State, Ken Detzner, is suing for access to a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) database to “better ascertain the citizenship status of voters,” according to Detzner’s attorney Michael Carvin. DHS has so far refused the request. Carvin says that if Detzner receives the data, “I do expect the state to proceed [with the purge] and protect the integrity of the voter rolls.” Hinkle accepts the state’s arguments that it is carrying out its duty to make sure non-citizens do not “dilute” the votes of actual citizens. Hinkle showed some concern that over half of the people on Florida’s “purge list” are Hispanic, saying: “That’s discriminatory, at least in effect. I don’t suggest that that was the purpose of this.” Hinkle also chided Collier County for sending letters to “potential non-citizens” challenging whether people born in Puerto Rico are legitimate US citizens. People born in Puerto Rico are US citizens by law. Collier County elections staffer Tim Durham says the county never sent such a letter. Hinkle says that with the elections approaching, “[t]he federal government and the state government ought to be working together to try to minimize the mistakes” instead of trying to settle the problem in court. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) praises the ruling, saying, “The court made a commonsense decision consistent with what I’ve been saying all along: that irreparable harm will result if non-citizens are allowed to vote.” Democrats say Scott is trying to suppress legitimate votes in Florida; liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org calls the purge “racist” because of its focus on Hispanics. [Miami Herald, 6/27/2012]

Entity Tags: National Voter Registration Act, John Bert Ross, County of Collier (Florida), Ken Detzner, MoveOn (.org), Robert Hinkle, Michael Carvin, US Department of Justice, Tim Durham, US Department of Homeland Security, Rick Scott

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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