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Acorn Squawk

Acorn SquawkJesus, not again. As if we didn’t learn in 2000 and 2004 to do something about this once and for all. The latest Republican clarion call should make us afraid for the continued functioning of our fragile democracy: The Democrats are trying to steal another election.

Wait. What?

Or so the latest cries of Democratic Party-perpetrated “voter fraud” by its shadowy agents in that mysterious cabal they call “ACORN” would have you believe. It’s this week’s right-wing talking point: The Democrats are using ACORN to taint this election and pack the voter rolls with ineligible, serially registered, or out-and-out fraudulent voters. Images abound of scheming dishwater-drab old Jewish hippie women, shifty middle-aged white men with pony tails and Birkenstocks on their gray-wool stockinged feet, and cigar-smoking African-American men who talk like Samuel Jackson’s Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown and use the office’s petty cash drawer to buy bottles of Hennessy–all of them conspiring together to send an army of criminals to every corner of the country to put the fix in for November 4. If, God help us, they succeed, then on November 5 it’s going to be all abortion-on-demand, the criminal prosecution of Christians, and fruit baskets at the border for every arriving illegal alien.

I suppose you could argue that desperate times require desperate measures. After all, you have to do something if your brother isn’t the Governor, or if you don’t have the Supreme Court in your party’s back pocket, or you don’t have a wealthy contributor who brags at party fundraisers that the upcoming election is a lock–and who also happens to be the nation’s largest producer of electronic voting machines. Or you have a friend in the Ohio Secretary of State who will make sure the wealthy white districts have plenty of voting machines and making the poor and ethnic urban districts fight over the remaining six.

Of course, using any of these circumstances to advocate ACORN misdeeds would require conceding that not only has ACORN as an organization committed misdeeds, but that the fraudulent efforts of some of their less-than-ethical low-level employees have actually put the coming election in the hands of a million-man army of phony and illegible voters. That would also require believing that one Mr. Mickey Mouse will be allowed to cast his vote in Florida, that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will show up to vote in Las Vegas, or that no one will notice if Cuyahoga County teenager Freddie Johnson votes under each of his 73 registrations.

A little background: ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, was founded in 1970 by Wade Rathke and Gary Delgado. ACORN is, as it has been for much of its existence, an advocacy group for low- and middle-income community families and individuals, promoting health care, good wages, safe neighborhoods, and voter registration.

It’s the latter ACORN cause that has the right so exercised. The country is littered with lawsuits and even some criminal legal actions against ACORN for allegedly registering fictitious and dead voters. John McCain accuses them of “perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history and maybe destroying the fabric of democracy in our society.”

That’s a weighty charge against a few dozen people who don’t, at first glance, appear capable of or at least interested in bathing themselves. ACORN has in recent years hired individuals to hit the streets to register voters. It’s grueling work, and they generally do their due diligence to hire individuals who possess some scintilla of social and political conscience and are out there to do the right thing. But, as John McCain and Sarah Palin might say, their reward is in heaven, if it’s there at all. It certainly isn’t in their paycheck.

Democracy is thankless work, unless you’re Ted Stevens. The average salary of a high-powered ACORN manager is something in the neighborhood of $53,000. With that kind of obscene largesse and a credit score of about 680, you could buy a Kia Rio and taunt your peers with the rewards of your obscene ambition. You’re certainly not paying anything close to that to your entry-level underlings.

Have you seen those Maruchan Yakisoba Noodle trays they sell in WinCo for $0.98? Walk through any ACORN office at lunch and that’s what a lot of their organizers are eating. Those $3.50 a pack GPC cigarettes? That’s what at least a handful of their signature gatherers are working for

Often the recruiting for signature gatherers comes down to a simple two-item checklist: 1) Warm skin.  2) A pulse. ACORN has taken to, in years past, the controversial practice of offering their hires a bounty on each gathered voter registration card. With the avalanche of lawsuits in recent years, they look pretty moronic for the misdeeds of their help, who knew they could get two bucks or so for every name they could sign up.

On the other hand, these aren’t positions that are filled by a headhunter. Decry today’s work ethic as much as you want, the jobs that don’t even pay a Hamilton an hour generally don’t attract the highest caliber of workers. Ask anyone who’s had to manage people in the service-based economy of the last two or three decades and they’ll likely tell you that it’s, at best, a numbers game–plow through enough candidates and there will be at least one or two decent ones hearty enough to still be standing–and, at worst, a crap shoot–you can throw those dice again and still wind up with people you wouldn’t trust to preside over drying paint in your living room, much less your professional enterprise. If you can only afford to pay loser wages, you’re by and large going to attract…yes, exactly.

Think about that gas station/convenience store where you pick up your machine-blended cappuccino or 44-ounce Diet Pepsi every morning before you head into work. Did you notice that the young man at the cash register didn’t look like the young man who rang you up last week–and he didn’t look like the one the week before that? Maybe they didn’t like getting up at 5:30 AM and slogging their way across town for $6.55 an hour, or maybe the station owner fired them when he caught them sneaking hits off their pipe while they were supposed to be out back hosing out the mop bucket, or when he replayed the security camera and saw them stuffing nine giant frozen burritos in their backpack.

Do you stop buying your gas and soda there because the station owner hired a few thieves and morons? Probably not. And certainly no one is hauling him into court and charging him with a systemic attempt to justify raising your burrito prices. The truth is, for every two or three idiots or criminals he fires, there are one or two or three like Lou the pump jockey (I’m using an Oregon frame-of-reference–we’re the only state other than New Jersey that doesn’t allow self-serve gasoline) who have been there a year or more who are out there every time you come in for gas cleaning your windshield and giving you a friendly wave when you leave.

The ratio is probably a little better for an organization like ACORN, where, in addition to the layabout cheats that a tedious, low-paying job will often attract, they do get people of genuine ideals who would like to help elevate America’s traditionally-abysmal voter turnout and maybe in the process elevate a candidate or two who might be more interested in investing in jobs, infrastructure, and education than in tax breaks for oil companies and hoodie manufacturers who decide to relocate to Vietnam.

All of that aside, the other red herring that’s swimming through the slimy water is the charge that these fraudulent registrations are somehow putting democracy at risk. Well, for one thing, many states require that organizations like ACORN turn in all of their voter registration cards, even if they contain obviously disqualifying information. It doesn’t matter how many they catch in their own review process, every one of them has to be turned into the state elections authority for review. Second, not only has the 2008 election not happened yet, but “voter fraud”–where a voter deliberately shows up to a polling place to cast a ballot they are not legally eligible to cast–is one of those transgressions that pops up about as often as an Elvis postage stamp they accidentally printed with a mustache. In fact, the only case of voter fraud that comes to my mind is that of Ann Coulter.

What is of greater concern to “the fabric of democracy in our society” are the Republicans across the country pulling bundles of cash out of their war chest to challenge every voter registration that might be a potential Obama or down-ticket Democratic voter, hoping to tie up the process in red tape and leave the matter unresolved come election day If, in fact, their registrations are proven to be valid–when this all gets resolved by, say, December or January–then they can consider themselves legally registered and can vote without challenge when the next county bond levy comes up.

If ACORN is in the business of stealing elections, they really should be out of business, because they suck at it.

Veeps2012

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