10/10/08

ACORN turns voting into a criminal offense

More ACORN stories: hereVoter-fraud stories: here

As the world watches, ACORN puts U.S. in Bad Company

Politics usually leaves me angry or bored, but there are some interesting stories in the news about elections these days.

The Times of India, for example, reports that in Mumbai, voting in the Bombay Parsi Punchayet was marked by fighting by rival factions. People had to stand for hours in the voting lines, fist fights broke out, and there were allegations that ballots already marked were given to seniors by party workers.

In Israel officials are investigating allegations that the ruling party's membership roll has been tampered with. There is a lot at stake in the decision on who will be the next Israeli prime minister. Britain's Telegraph reports that Israel's foreign minister is the favourite to win but manipulation of the roll could end up helping the other contenders. Party membership has recently doubled, but police believe some of these votes will actually be used illegally.

In Angola European Union observers have charged that the first democratic elections in 16 years have been marred by vote-rigging. After years of civil war, the election is heralded as a move forward, but BBC News says that many polling stations are not open, and people are being bussed into regions where their presence will sway the vote.

There have been alleged hand-outs of money, televisions, radios and alcohol, and ruling party officials and soldiers have been placed in voting stations to influence voting.

In the US election campaign there are thousands of articles on voter fraud. For example, the New York Daily News reports that Democrats have charged the Republicans with trying to keep voters who lost their homes through foreclosure from the polls. The Republicans have counter-claimed that the Democrats are sending transient voters to states where their ballots would count the most. Disputes over the eligibility of voters have broken out in Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia and Florida.

In Ohio the Supreme Court has just ruled that voters can register and vote with absentee ballots on the same day, despite Ohio's state constitution which says there has to be a 30-day lag in between. Allegations are that Democratic party workers are busing thousands of people in to vote in an attempt to swing the election, similar to what happened in 2004.

Furthermore, the Democratic Party is smeared by association with an activist group called ACORN, which has been indicted for felony voter fraud in a dozen states.

The Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times writes that this controversy centres around a social activist organization which has been conducting a voter registration drive focusing on low-income, black, Latino, and young voters in states crucial to the Democratic campaign.

The Republicans say that such efforts constitute election fraud, while ACORN says its voter registration program empowers low-income people by bringing them into the democratic process. No wonder they're unhappy.

After all this exciting international election-crime news, I went searching for similar controversies in Canada's election. The main controversy is that with a divided left, the right doesn't have to do much to win.

The biggest crime then is that nothing significant is being done about climate change, despite recent alarming news that one-quarter of all mammals are facing extinction and that methane escaping from melting permafrost renders even the most dire climate change models optimistic.

Enter VoteForEnvironment.ca, which is launching a comprehensive push for strategic voting on green issues on its website. The site looks at every riding, and using the results from the 2006 election and recent polls, tries to determine the greenest candidate with the best chance of beating the Conservatives. The CBC reports that if every voter took the website's suggestions, a Liberal minority buoyed by an enhanced NDP and Green presence would replace the Conservatives.

Similarly, check out "Anti-Harper Vote Swap Canada" on Facebook. Voters can swap their choice with someone in another riding where their choice will make a difference. It's touted as a way to make a left vote count in a conservative climate.

As far as I can tell, it's not a crime, but might make for a change in a country where only 30 percent of the popular vote could translate into a majority government.

- Chris McCormick is a criminology professor at St. Thomas University. His column on crime and criminal justice appears every second Thursday.

(dailygleaner.canadaeast.com)

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