As his hopes of winning the congressional election in New York's 23rd district fade, conservative candidate Doug Hoffman is clearly getting desperate. Today he's blaming his loss on "ACORN, the unions, and the Democratic party" who he alleges, without a shred of evidence, tampered with votes to rig the election against him. Never mind that ACORN told David Weigel that they didn't have volunteers in the area, or that it largely operates in poor urban communities, which NY-23 is not. For conservatives, ACORN is shorthand for the evils of the left.
On the heels of that news, Public Policy Polling released this shocking nugget on its blog: "a 52% majority of GOP voters nationally think that ACORN stole the Presidential election for Barack Obama last year, with only 27% granting that he won it legitimately." Say what? More than half of Republican respondents believe the president was elected fraudulently! That's a stunningly high number. It's disturbing, not only as a demonstrable lack of faith in America's democracy but as an expression of wanton ignorance. Worse, it illustrates the effectiveness of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et al., alongside a well-funded "Stop ACORN" campaign, in creating an atmosphere where unquestioned lies become received wisdom.
Barack Obama won the election by an easy margin. In the end, it wasn't even close. John McCain knew that and delivered his concession speech before 9:30 p.m. Obama didn't just win in the urban areas where ACORN could actually be seen as a force—and which would likely have voted for him regardless of ACORN's participation. He won in places like North Carolina, where ACORN had just eight staffers. There's been no formal challenge to the electoral validity of the votes.There's simply no proof to back up claims that ACORN tampered with ballots. But there is evidence of irresponsible reporting catalyzing misguided fears.
In September, Peter Dreier and Christopher Martin at California's Occidental College released a study of media coverage of ACORN. Among their many findings was this laundry list regarding stories about ACORN's alleged involvement in voter fraud:
- 82.8% of the stories failed to mention that actual voter fraud is very rare;
- 80.3% of the stories failed to mention that ACORN was reporting registration irregularities to authorities, as required by law;
- 85.1% of the stories about ACORN failed to note that ACORN was acting to stop incidents of registration problems by its (mostly temporary) employees when it became aware of these problems;
- 95.8% of the stories failed to provide deeper context, especially efforts by Republican Party officials to use allegations of "voter fraud" to dampen voting by low‐income and minority Americans, including the firing of U.S. Attorneys who refused to cooperate with the politicization of voter-fraud accusations—firings that ultimately led to the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
To be sure, ACORN has some serious credibility problems, including those infamous videos of ACORN staffers handing out advice about how to fool the IRS as well as an embezzlement scandal. The organization is indeed compromised. But that's even more reason why it's almost unimaginable that it could engineer a massive deceit on the American people and fraudulently steal an election. It's hard to conceive that hundreds of volunteers with clipboards and voter-registration papers were engaged in an elegant (and enormous) conspiracy to cheat and thieve a national election, or that such drastic measures were necessary in a fight against an unpopular incumbent party.
The conservative obsession with ACORN is sad and culturally debilitating. For some, it's politics as usual. Demonize the other side until you get the power back. But for others it's evidently an expression of fear of a world where poor people of diverse ethnic backgrounds become a mobilized political force. For its part ACORN hasn't been very virtuous, but it's far from the "criminal enterprise" that Rep. Steve King or Rep. Darrell Issa would have you believe. It actually does have a history of doing socially constructive work in low income and disenfranchised communities, legitimately helping people file taxes, register to vote and find employment. The people they serve—underprivileged, mainly nonwhite, inner-city dwellers—also happen to vote for Democrats, which is exactly why they're such a prime target of conservative animus. But ACORN's now public improprieties doesn't make it even remotely capable of stealing a hard-fought presidential election. If it did, America would have much bigger problems on its hands than some hookers trying to cheat on their taxes.