by Ali Meyer| Wade Rathke dismisses the significance of voter fraud in interview with SOURCE writer.
Voter fraud has always been a contentious issue, seemingly ever-present and yet mysteriously veiled from the public eye. However, the model of clandestine fraud was reversed during the election season this year with loud claims of false voter registration, largely stemming from the community group ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
ACORN was founded 38 years ago in Little Rock, AK by a 21-year-old college dropout named Wade Rathke. It has recruited over 500,000 dues-paying members from low- and middle-income families and has a tumultuous history of voter registration efforts.
In 1970, ACORN lobbied against redlining, the process of refusing to grant loans or insurance in certain areas, because they felt that it was discriminatory, despite the fact that banks considered such areas to hold risky and uncertain investments. By 1977, their efforts produced the Community Reinvestment Act, which “forced the federal reserve to tighten reinforcement issues,” according to Rathke, thus insuring that banks would meet the needs of borrowers in all areas of their community.
The Community Reinvestment Act has recently been charged with partially causing the current financial meltdown. Even at the time, critics of the act feared that it might lead to unsound lending. But for ACORN, the passage of the Community Reinvestment Act was a “benchmark on how to use pressure,” according to Rathke, to further their agenda.
Since the passage of the Act in 1977, ACORN has continued on its path of political activism. ACORN has registered new voters since 1971, and challenges related to voter fraud have come up fairly often. During a voter registration drive in 1986, twelve ACORN members were convicted of voter fraud for registering nonexistent people. The gravity of this should not be underestimated; in the last 20 years, less than 20 people have been convicted of voter fraud. Last year, four ACORN employees were indicted for false voter registrations in Kansas City, Missouri, as well as in Wisconsin and Colorado.
Although the organization registered over 1 million new voters in 2004, this year it had a “Britney Spears moment,” in Rathke’s words, projecting ACORN into the consciousness and television screens of the nation. The organization registered 1.3 million new voters this year, but was in the news for its plethora of allegedly false voter registrations.
Despite his organization’s unreliable history, Rathke considers the voter fraud issue a negligible one. Attacks related to voter fraud are, according to him, “an old thing.” When prompted for clarification, Rathke said that there is a “difference between voter fraud and registration,” but he acknowledged that “registering is really hard work; there are going to be mistakes.” He also suggested that the fraudulent registrations were the fault of “overly enthusiastic registrars,” not malicious intent. In sum, he felt that ACORN was unjustly blamed by the media, that it was “swiftboated.”
Rathke also cited the statistic that 120 out of 1.3 million voter applications registered by ACORN this year were fraudulent, which is undoubtedly bad, but certainly not enough to justify the media coverage it received. However, the press differs with respect to Rathke’s numbers. There have been numerous high-profile incidents involving ACORN registering very clearly fraudulent voters, and many that have gone under the radar. ACORN is currently being investigated by ten states for its tactics, as well as by the FBI.
In one odd example, the entire starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys football team was registered in Nevada. Although the possibility that the entire Cowboy team will vote , in Nevada no less, may sound ridiculous, Nevada does not require an ID to vote. Unfortunately a number of other battleground states like New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Minnesota also lack an ID requirement.
In Missouri, a person named Monica Rays, registered by ACORN, showed up on eight different voter registration forms, all bearing the same signature. Concerned St. Louis officials sent letters to 5,000 ACORN registrants asking them to verify their information, and fewer than 40 responded, suggesting that many of the people registered simply do not exist. Officials across the country have declared vaguely that “large portions” of their registrations have been false, and that they have received “huge numbers” of fraudulent registrations, nowhere near the nation-wide 120 claimed by Rathke. Some individual counties have each claimed thousands of fraudulent registrations.
When pressed by this enterprising young reporter for the possible electoral ramifications of fraudulent registrations, Rathke dismissed the notion. “Sometimes you need to show up to vote, show an ID,” he said. However, 26 states require no form of identification whatsoever in order to vote. When prompted about the possibility of absentee or mail-in voting, Rathke explained, “most often, Mickey Mouse lives in Disneyland.” An invalid address will clearly prevent someone from voting fallaciously, but to assume that all addresses presented in fraudulent registrations are invalid is simply irresponsible. Rathke’s summary of the dilemma did not even leave the opportunity to place blame; “I guess there’s an outside chance, but I really think it’s a fairly minor problem,” he said.
This complete underestimation and dismissal of the ramifications of voter fraud is far too prevalent. Voter fraud is a felony that should not be taken so lightly, especially by the founder of an organization that is charged with performing the crime on such a widespread basis. Rathke needs to understand the consequences of his organization’s actions, and take responsibility for his blatant disrespect for the tenets of American democracy.
Ms. Meyer is a sophomore majoring in Philosophy.