Republicans passed new voting restrictions in more than a dozen states since the 2010 election that were purportedly designed to stop voter fraud. Yet, in a deeply ironic twist, the most high-profile instances of election fraud this cycle have been committed by Republicans in states with new voting restrictions.
The RNC-funded Strategic Allied Consulting, run by checkered GOP operative Nathan Sproul, is under criminal investigation in Florida for submitting fraudulent voter registration forms to election officials. (Sproul is still running voter-canvassing operations for conservatives in thirty states.) Sproul’s associate Colin Small, who had worked for Strategic Allied Consulting and as “Grassroots Field Director at the Republican National Committee,” was charged last week with eight felony counts and five misdemeanors for trashing voter registration forms in Virginia.
Republicans claim that the voter registration fraud was committed by a few bad apples and pales in comparison to the fraud committed by ACORN in 2008. But ACORN was never funded by the DNC. And the abuses committed by Sproul and Small were far worse than those attached to ACORN. Unlike Strategic Allied Consulting, ACORN never changed the party affiliations on fraudulent voter registration forms and self-reported suspicious materials to election officials. Nor did ACORN ever destroy valid voter registration forms, as Small is accused of doing. (Not to mention that none of the fictitious characters falsely registered by ACORN workers, like Mickey Mouse, ever voted.)
Despite the right’s preoccupation with voter fraud, Sproul and Small have received scant coverage from conservative media outlets. Fox News, which ran 122 stories on ACORN from 2007–08, mentioned Strategic Allied Consulting only three times since the scandal broke in late September and hasn’t aired a single report on voter registration fraud in Virginia. Nor have National Review or The Weekly Standard, the pre-eminent conservative magazines, run an article about either case.
ACORN was far from perfect, but it did not deserve the witch-hunt treatment it received. In 2009, Peter Dreier of Occidental College and Christopher Martin of Northern Iowa studied the media’s shameful coverage of ACORN during the 2008 election and found:
• 82.8% of the stories failed to mention that actual voter fraud is very rare
• 80.3% of the stories failed to mention that ACORN was reporting registration irregularities to authorities, as required by law
• 85.1% of the stories about ACORN failed to note that ACORN was acting to stop incidents of registration problems by its (mostly temporary) employees when it became aware of these problems
• 95.8% of the stories failed to provide deeper context, especially efforts by Republican Party officials to use allegations of “voter fraud” to dampen voting by low‐income and minority Americans, including the firing of U.S. Attorneys who refused to cooperate with the politicization of voter-fraud accusations—firings that ultimately led to the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
Republicans, it turns out, have committed the very voter registration fraud they once accused ACORN of perpetrating. Nor did new voting restrictions in states like Florida and Virginia, which could collectively make it harder for 5 million Americans to cast a ballot in 2012, prevent the fraud they were supposedly meant to combat.
For more coverage of voter suppression, check out The Nation’s joint project with Colorlines.com, Voting Rights Watch 2012.