CBS News Investigative Producer Laura Strickler wrote this story for CBSNews.com.
As questions about fraudulent voter registrations at ACORN offices grow nationwide, the organization today defended its efforts to sign up 1.3 million people, a record number of new voters for the upcoming presidential election. CBS News Chief Investigative Correspondent, Armen Keteyian reported on the growing allegations last week.
"That there can be errors in the process we freely admit that, but we are fiercely patriotic. The voter franchise was bought in blood," said Reverend Gloria Swierenga, director of Maryland ACORN, invoking the names of civil rights workers who died for voting rights in the 1960's.
ACORN officials say after they collect new voter registrations they verify them and then red flag any suspicious applications before they turn them over to election officials across the country. They say they are bound by law not to throw the applications away no matter how absurd the applicants, be they Mickey Mouse or the names of Dallas Cowboy football players. One former election official who spoke on behalf of ACORN said it would be highly inappropriate for outside organizations to judge the validity of voter applications.
But when asked what percentage of the 1.3 million registrations were red flagged, the organization did not know. Kevin Whelan, one of the ACORN employees who runs the voter registration program said he would follow up later with a response, "You know I don't want to give a number that I can't back up, I will get the most exact information to date…it's a very small minority." Later Whelan followed up to say that ACORN believes the error rate is less than 1%.
Earlier this morning, former senators John Danforth and Warren Rudman who are affiliated with the McCain campaign held a press conference on ACORN voter fraud but refused to let ACORN officials attend according to ACORN employees.
The McCain campaign continued to hammer Obama for his connections to the community based organization. On the Rush Limbaugh show, Sarah Palin said, "Let's talk quickly about ACORN and the unconscionable situation that we are facing right now with voter fraud, given the ties between Obama and ACORN and the money his campaign has sent them...for shame if the mainstream media were to cover this one up."
Meanwhile ACORN released video of John McCain speaking at a 2006 rally in Florida on immigration reform that was sponsored by ACORN.
In the video McCain praises the room full of activists who are shouting in Spanish, "Yes we can," which has now become a rallying cry for Obama's campaign. McCain tells the group to loud applause, "What makes America special is what's in this room tonight."
"He was quite friendly to our ACORN members at that rally, so we just assumed he was a friend of ours before he decided he wasn't, " said Steve Kest National Director of ACORN,
To punctuate the point, ACORN put out a press release with the headline, "ACORN to McCain: Have You Lost That Loving Feeling?"
By Laura Strickler