Republicans hoping Mickey Mouse will not vote early and often


The group Acorn, which has been accused of voter registration fraud, has questions to answer

FRAUDULENT ELECTIONS are nothing new in US history. Tammany Hall did it in New York; Lyndon Johnson did it in Texas. John F Kennedy's father Joe paid for it to be done in Chicago.

And multiple ways have been used to achieve the same end: repeat voting; false registration; or the more systematic version used in some Republican districts, where the poor have been disenfranchised because so few voting machines have been supplied, and those that are, sometimes do not work.

Today, the latest organisation to be accused of fraud is Acorn, the Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now, which last week finished months of effort to register new voters for the November 4th election.

The 30-year-old non-profit organisation is under attack because some of the applications generated by its workers, who were paid $8 an hour, have been shown to be fictitious, although the numbers are not yet known.

The services of Sherlock Holmes were not required in uncovering the fraud. In Nevada, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the entire first team of the Dallas Cowboys were registered.

The conduct of the organisation's canvassers has been seized on by Republican John McCain, who warned that it "is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history . . . maybe destroying the fabric of democracy".

Rejecting the allegations, Bertha Lewis, Acorn's chief executive, said: "Rumours of Acorn's voter fraud have been greatly exaggerated and to a large extent manufactured."

The McCain charge appears overblown, but there is little doubt that Acorn has questions to answer. Is it guilty of incompetence, carelessness, or something more serious?

The Federal Bureau of Investigations is said to be investigating the matter, according to the Associated Press, although the US justice department refuses to say if this is so, in line with its policy of not commenting on inquiries.

The numbers registered are more than significant - 1.3 million voters, by Acorn's own figures; almost 80,000, for example, in just six months in poor black districts in Philadelphia alone - and could be influential if they turn out on election day.

McCain has been quick to point out the link between Barack Obama and Acorn; and that this dates back to Obama's time as a community organiser in Chicago.

He once represented Acorn in court, accuses McCain, although he fails to point out that the US justice department was on the same side of the argument as the Democrat on that occasion.

The organisation has become a bogeyman for right-wing commentators in the final weeks of the campaign; but Acorn has facilitated them with its history of poorly-managed registration campaigns. This is in part because workers are given just one day's training.

Last July, in Washington state, it agreed a settlement with local authorities after seven of its people were prosecuted for lodging 2,000 fraudulent registration applications "in the worst case ever seen in the state", according to a local prosecutor.

Obama has quickly distanced himself from the organisation: "Apparently what they've done is they were paying people to go out and register folks, and apparently some of the people who were out there didn't really register people, they just filled out a bunch of names.

"It had nothing to do with us. We were not involved. The only involvement I've had with Acorn was I represented them alongside the US justice department in making Illinois implement a motor voter law that helped people get registered," he said in Wednesday night's debate.

However, Obama's campaign did pay an $832,598 payment in February to Citizens Services Inc, a consulting firm affiliated to Acorn, saying at the time that it was for staging, sound and lighting bills.

The campaign subsequently amended a filing to the federal election commission (FEC) to acknowledge that the money was for work to get out the vote.

The amended filing, the Republicans allege, showed that the original hid the facts; although the FEC itself says that such amendments are common.

The number of new voters registering for November 4th has rattled the Republican Party, particularly in poorer districts and around colleges where younger voters are predicted to favour the black candidate.

In Virginia, 436,000 more names are now on the voting list than this time last year - a 10 per cent rise, according to the Virginia state Board of Elections; and it's up to 15 per cent in some districts. All of the new vote is likely to lean Democratic.

Registering the vote is one thing; getting them to turn up on the day is another.

In Ohio, the Obama campaign put great store in the people it expected would cast their votes early, but, so far, numbers have disappointed, according to some sources.

During the primaries in Pennsylvania, Hilary Clinton paid "walking around money" to alleged community leaders in black communities to encourage people to vote. Obama did not.

But he is expected to do so on November 4th to counter the Republican's advantage in the so-called "72-hour cycle" when it uses church groups to encourage people to head to polling stations. Every vote will count.