ACORN advances swing-state objective

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Banner year for union-backed voter fraud group

With perhaps the most important presidential election in US history just over five weeks away, the NC Democratic Party says its gearing up to make sure that the rights of voters at the polls are not violated or unduly challenged by the Republican Party.

Already there are published reports from Michigan, a key battleground state, about the Macomb County GOP there originally planning to employ ''voter caging,'' a practice where Republicans would challenge the voter registration eligibility of black and other people of color at the polls on Election Day using a list of foreclosed homes to determine who no longer lives at an address from which mail was returned.

When word of the GOP plan hit the press, the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee filed suit in federal court against the Michigan Republican Party, calling the voter caging practice ''false and illegal.''

In their suit, the Obama campaign noted that in Ohio, another key battleground state, over 11,000 Democrats were targeted by the same tactic in July.

An outraged Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan), wrote a strong letter to Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, demanding that he denounce his fellow GOP'ers.

''It is beyond disgraceful that the Republican Party now seems to be targeting those who are suffering the most, '' Conyers, who also chairs the House Judiciary Committee, wrote. ''It appears that individuals who can't recall how many houses they own don't understand how awful it is to lose your home to foreclosure, and don't know that you don't need to own property to vote in the United States of America.

Conyers' scathing letter continued, ''Senator McCain needs to step forward now and halt the Republican Party's efforts to profit politically from the economic misery of others.''

Republican voter caging has a long tradition, even here in North Carolina.

During the 1990 US Senate race between Sen. Jesse Helms and black challenger Harvey Gantt, the US Department of Justice filed suit against the NC Republican Party after the NCGOP sent out so-called ''ballot security'' cards to black Democrats across the state, warning them that if they tried to vote on Election Day but were not properly registered, they could be criminally prosecuted.

The GOP goal was to either frighten or confuse enough African-American Democrats to keep them home on Election Day, thus suppressing Gantt's black support base.

As a result, a judge issued a consent decree barring the NCGOP from ever engaging in ballot security tactics again with court permission, but the Republicans have insisted they did nothing wrong, and, because of the successful efforts by the Democrats this year in registering thousands of new voters in North Carolina, the GOP has vow to continue to challenge what they call ''voter fraud'' this campaign season.

Just this week, the US Justice Dept. announced that it would not station criminal prosecutors at the polls across the nation on Election Day to monitor voter activity. Civil rights groups requested the move so that black and other voters of color would not be intimidated. Justice officials did commit to maintaining a close eye on the process, however, to make sure there are no problems.

NC Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meek is well aware of what the Republicans are capable of, and has been mindful of what to prepare for since before the North Carolina primaries last spring.

In an interview conducted with The Carolinian last December, long before anyone could know that a black man would in serious contention to be elected Commander-in-chief, Meek said based on the historical debacle during the 2000 Florida presidential race, and the GOP's past record of voter intimidation in North Carolina and elsewhere, the Democratic Party would be pro-active during the 2008 elections to protect the rights of all voters.

''The rhetoric of voter fraud is a political tool that…the Republican Party currently is using for the purpose of disenfranchising black voters, and [they may] succeed in getting away with something that would turn the clock back,'' the chairman said.

The prospect of possible Republican-sanctioned ballot shenanigans in North Carolina is heightened because of the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama for president. The African-American senator from Illinois is seeking to make history in his run for the White House, and he has poured millions of dollars in staff, advertising and resources into North Carolina in an effort to steal the traditional red state from Republican opponent Sen. John McCain.

With the Arizona Republican and Obama in a virtual tie according to the latest NC polls, every vote is going to count on Election Day, Nov. 4.

And that means if the GOP can either successfully challenge, confuse or even scare away a significant number of black Democratic voters, that could make the difference in defeating Obama here.

Thus, they shield their tactics under the guise of rooting out ''voter fraud.''

Meek says the Republican Party tends ''to exaggerate the significance of voter fraud'' in order to justify challenging black voters. But because most counties and states have now electronically calibrated their voter records systems, even to the point of matching their information of US Dept. of Health and Human Services death records, it is much harder to perpetrate the kind of fraud the GOP consistently alleges is rampant, he says.

''We have technologically a lot more safeguards than we've ever had, and that has enabled us…to broaden the inclusion of more people without increasing the danger of voter fraud,'' Meek said.

Still, many Republicans continue to allege fraud in voter registration efforts.

The GOP frowns, for instance, at efforts like Sept. 27th's
''Highway to History Voter Registration Campaign,'' where at least 100 NCCU undergraduates law students will travel to Smithfield, Goldsboro, LaGrange and Kinston in Eastern North Carolina this Saturday in an effort to register people to vote before the Oct. 10 deadline.

''This effort will place students in these communities for the entire day,'' said NCCU Law Professor Irving Joyner. ''In the communities, students will team with local volunteers to conduct a door-to-door effort to identify and register unregistered individuals and encourage them to cast their votes during the early voting period.''

The GOP may also have concerns about Oct. 16, the first day of One Stop Early Voting/Same-Day Registration in North Carolina.

Because that date also coincides with the thirteenth anniversary of the historic 1995 Million Man March, several churches and civic groups across the state are discussing plans to have car and vanloads of African-American voters marching in unison on that day to cast ballots at their county Board of Election offices.

Republicans may also challenge the right of ex-felons to register and vote. Many who have served their time and have been released are unaware that their voting privileges have been restored, and all they have to do is register at their county board of elections.

The GOP has insisted that some black voters are able to fraudulently vote twice because photo ID is not required in certain states.

The GOP believes that if black and Hispanic voters are compelled to show photo ID, they are not likely to vote.

As a result, as least 23 states have some form of minimum voter ID requirement, with 18 states requiring ID of all voters, and just three states, including Georgia and Florida, requiring photo ID at the polls.

Earlier this year, Republicans celebrated the US Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana's right to require voter photo ID. The ruling now opens the doors for other states to follow.

North Carolina does not require voter ID so far, except if someone wants to take advantage of One Stop Same-Day Registration and Early Voting, in which case they would need a valid ID to prove their residence.

According to the report, The Politics of Voter Fraud by Lorraine C. Minnite, Ph. D, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Barnard College and Columbia University, statistically, between 2002 and 2005, there were only 24 people in the entire nation that either pled guilty to, or were convicted of voter fraud.

''The available state-level evidence of voter fraud, culled from interviews, reviews of newspaper coverage and court proceedings, while not definitive, is also negligible,'' the report adds.

Defining the rare crime as the ''intentional corruption of the electoral process by the voter,'' Dr. Minnite's report goes on to note that historically, where there was clear evidence of corruption, it was usually by those attempting to either suppress or deny African-Americans their right to vote.

''In the late nineteenth century when newly freed black Americans were swept into electoral politics, and where blacks were the majority of the electorate, it was the [Southern] Democrats who were threatened by a loss of power, and it was the Democratic party that erected new rules said to be necessary to respond to alleged fraud by black voters,'' Dr. Minnite's report states.

''Today, the success of voter registration drives among minorities and low income people in recent years threatens to expand the base of the Democratic party and tip the balance of power away from the Republicans,'' the report continues. ''Consequently, the use of baseless voter fraud allegations for partisan advantage has become the exclusive domain of Republican party activists.''

Chairman Meek noted how the infamous ''poll tax'' - which was a per head taxation used in the South to disenfranchise poor and black voters at the turn of the century, was one of the earliest forms electoral fraud.

Meek says there is clear evidence that North Carolina Republicans are zealously still pushing the voter fraud theme.

Last year, when the state Senate was discussing the bill to establish same-day voter registration and early voting, state Auditor Les Merritt, a Republican, alleged that he and the US Dept. of Justice were looking into ''damming information'' about alleged instances of voter fraud in the North Carolina.

The state auditor alleged in a preliminary report that there was evidence that 17-year-olds had illegally voted in the 2006 primaries, and that a further scan of the voter rolls revealed that some of the people who voted were dead.

After further examination, however, it was determined that every 17-year-old who voted in the 2006 primaries did so legally, because state law allowed then to do so just as long as they would turn eighteen before the general election.

And as for those ''dead'' voters, a closer look revealed all of them had legally cast absentee ballots before their demise.

Because Republican Merritt's preliminary report proved to be both false and clumsy at best, Chairman Meek said at the time, ''Either Les Merritt is incompetent, lacking even a basic understanding of election law, or he's using his position as State Auditor to pursue the partisan agenda of the national Republican Party. Either way, voters should be worried.''

In Durham, election officials are currently probing whether 80 of some 4,000-voter registration applications collected by the community activist group ACORN are fraudulent. The Republican National Committee alleges that the community activist group ''has a history of gathering fraudulent or incomplete voter registration forms,'' and maintains that the group is partisan.

Meanwhile in Elizabeth City this summer, several black students attending Elizabeth City State University had their voter registration status challenged by a white Republican voter who felt they had no business voting in local elections since they were ''temporary residents.'' The county Board of Elections, however, ruled that the students did nothing wrong.

Still, the NCNAACP asked the US Justice Dept. to probe the matter, concerned that the complaint was really a Republican effort to intimidate other black student voters at ECSU.
''We're going to be vigilant through the election cycle that all the rules are followed,'' Brent Woodcox, assistant legal counsel for the NCGOP, told Bloomberg News in August.

Because North Carolina is such a key battleground state in the Obama campaign strategy, protecting the integrity of every voter registration effort statewide is a priority.

Reportedly, attorneys for the Obama campaign have been in the state for months monitoring any possible challenges.

They won't be alone.

The Democratic National Committee, along with the DNC Voting Rights Institute and the National Lawyers Council, kicked off its unprecedented ''50 State Strategy'' election protection program months ago, surveying every county board of elections in the nation, including in North Carolina, to assess what their voter procedures were in order to determine any operational inconsistencies with state or federal law long before the November general election.

The list of key concerns include making sure there is no disparity in voting equipment between predominately white and predominately black voting precincts; that provisions are made to guard against untenably long lines that would discourage voters from waiting; and that state law is enforced regarding electioneering at the polls.
NC Democratic Party Chairman Meek said the DNC has organized a national network of attorneys ''that we hope will combat any problems that will develop.''

The DNC's North Carolina attorneys will be paying close attention to how voters are treated when North Carolina's One Stop Early Voting/Same Day Registration period begins on Thursday Oct. 16.

''Those lawyers will respond to any complaint we have,'' Meeks said, especially if the Republicans attempt to challenge any voter's right to cast a ballot.

''They raise the specter of voter fraud without an substantiation, as is usually the case,'' Meek said, ''to achieve a political objective.''


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