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Column: ACORN Not As Big A Thorn In Democracy's Side As GOP Says

This story was written by William P. Davis, The Maine Campus

Sen. John McCain recently stated that the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN -- an organization aimed at registering low-income and minority citizens to vote -- "may be destroying the fabric of democracy." The real threat to the "fabric of democracy" is the purging of voter rolls across the nation that will result in thousands of legitimate voters being turned away from the polls on election day. Groups like ACORN should be commended for their work, even if chastised for their methods.

Right off the bat, let's make one thing clear: It's not voter fraud ... yet. Voter registration fraud, while still serious and still a crime, is not nearly as serious as voter fraud. The effects of actual voter fraud on our elections are blown out to massive proportions, including McCain's and Gov. Sarah Palin's attempts to paint ACORN as an anti-American, fraud-inducing organization.

"ACORN is under investigation for rampant voter fraud in 13 states. ACORN received more than $800,000 from the Obama campaign," Palin said at a recent rally. The fraud is voter registration fraud, and it has not been rampant. The fraudulent registrations make up a relatively small percentage of the overall voter registration rolls, and such registrations are quickly weeded out by the states.

Such a distinction between voter fraud and voter registration fraud may seem trite, but it's important to remember a few things. ACORN is legally bound in most states to turn in all the registrations it collects. This is a wise law -- you don't want a non-partisan organization discarding all the voters registered for any one particular party. In many cases, ACORN recognized and flagged the fraudulent registrations before they were handed over to the states, and unsympathetic officials at the state level contacted the media. Once the registrations are signed and turned in to ACORN, the organization can do nothing but help spot fraudulent registrations. That so many fraudulent registrations have been turned in is certainly cause for concern and might cause ACORN to restructure the collection process, but there will always be bad apples in the process.

The second thing to remember is that few people will be able to commit actual voter fraud come Election Day. Should Mickey Mouse's application some how make it through the process, should he show up on Election Day, he will be required to prove his identity, whether it is through picture identification or a social security number. This would be hard for a fictional character, and to be honest, too much work to cast one extra vote in the election.

The most important thing is to remember that the basis of this country is predicated on voting. It is a good idea to update voter registration rolls every year to keep up with the changing population, but it must be done delicately, not in the ad hoc fashion it has evolved into recently. Not one single person wishing to vote on Nov. 4 should be denied their right, as it is one of the few tools we as citizens have, short of a full-on revolution, to steer the country in the direction of our choosing. In Florida in 2000, thousands lost their right to vote because of ineffective efforts to remove felons and non-residents from the rolls. This resulted in disenfranchisement with a much bigger effect than potential fraud from ACORN's activities could ever have. Protecting "the fabric of our democracy" involves defending, not limiting, everybody's right to vote.

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