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Column: The Tragic Truth About ACORN

This story was written by Ian Sams, The Crimson White

Folks, Im not going to sling mud. Im not going to stand up on my soap box and shout about how unfair the rights characterization of Obama and his ties to Bill Ayers, ACORN and Jeremiah Wright is. I wont make unfounded assertions about John McCain still carrying on extramarital affairs like some on the other side of the aisle would make about Barack Obama still secretly smoking cigarettes.

Rather, Ill just tell a very tragic and unfortunate story about an organization that tried to make this country better and ended up hurting its cause due to mismanagement.

ACORN, the much maligned Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, was founded in 1970 to build community organizations that could unite for causes of social and economic justice, like equal housing opportunities, better schools, paid sick days and voter engagement.

At some point, the organization lost its way. It used to be an organization where talented young minds (like Barack Obama, in fact) would get involved and serve in the community.

It used to champion social and economic equality, crying out against the response to New Orleanians during and after Hurricane Katrina and holding rallies and meetings to arrange a network of low-income families that could bargain for fairer treatment in their neighborhoods.

The current scandal involving ACORN deals directly with the organizations efforts to register voters. Clearly, ACORN and its leadership erred in judgment by creating a completely foolhardy policy of paying any Joe Schmoe off the street to register voters, often times utilizing the poorest and most vulnerable in society to do work for very little payment. By instituting this policy, they were opening the door for trouble.

ACORN has now been accused of falsely registering hundreds of voters. The truth is that less than one percent of ACORNs registrations have been found fraudulent. They have netted about 1.3 million registrants this election cycle. You do the math here in regards to this things severity.

But whats the bottom line? I mean, why would anyone register false identities to vote?

Heres where ACORNs ineffective policy comes into play.

Question: If you had lost your job and had no income, would you sign up with ACORN to get paid to register voters?

Answer: Probably.

Question: If ACORN paid you per registration, would you want to turn in as many voter registration forms as possible?

Answer: Probably. Really, whats the disincentive?

So, Joe Schmoe registers some voters, gets his paycheck and high-tails it out of there. Then what does ACORN do?

This is perhaps the most important step in the whole process (and coincidentally the one always left out of right-wing analysis of this situation). ACORN then must weed through all these registrations and highlight any and all that are questionable, meaning they werent confirmed as voters in some form or fashion. Then, the organization must turn themall in to the election commission for another layer of screening.

Essentially, ACORN pays unfortunate, low-income citizens to register voters before the registrations are screened, waded through and some eliminated. This policy ultimately has cost ACORN respect and credibility as a progressive, well-meaning community organization by forking out cash for shoddy work.

Now, where does this fi in with the current campaign?

Barack Obama has apparently been involved with ACORN in the past. He did a leadership seminar and worked on Project Vote with them in Illinois. It seems he has tried to utilize their services to register voters by making a donation to their operation. (Ironically, John McCain was the keynote speaker at a March 2006 ACORN event in Florida. So, theres no guilt by association here.)

But the underlying question is: So what?

ACORNs targeted registrants are low-income, minority citizens. Whats wrong with Obama understanding that those voters tend to vote Democratic and trying to maximize registration efforts by exporting some of his operation? His utilizing ACORN would be comparable to John McCain utilizing the NRA to register voters. Is there something fundamentally undemocratic about registering more voters that you think would support your campaign? I think not. In fact, its democracy in action. Its giving more and more citizens the ability to vote by ensuring theyve taken care of the bureaucratic mess necessary to register to vote in this country.

So, lets lay off Obama in regards to ACORN. The organization is trying its hardest to correct any errors it has made. And while Barack Obama keeps talking about his plans to fix the economy and this nations deep-seated desire for change, the McCain campaign is throwing in the kitchen sink.

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