Voting Rights Watch: Little evidence of ACORN registration problems in the South

The much-hyped accusations of voter fraud by ACORN came to a head this week when John McCain suggested they threatened "the fabric of democracy."

But in the South, a region with its unique share of battles over voting and democracy, few problems have emerged with ACORN registration efforts -- and to date there have been no documented cases of fraud.

* North Carolina has been singled out as a supposed hot-spot; this week the Republican National Committee claimed voter registration fraud is "rampant" in the state. But the N.C. State Board of Elections has only identified 135 incorrectly filled-out registration forms in the state connected to ACORN, with most (104) isolated in Durham County -- less than half of 1% of the total 28,000 ACORN has registered in North Carolina.

What's more, election officials note that these errant registrations never impact the elections or lead to fraud, because they're weeded out:

Falsified registration forms do not lead to voter fraud, elections officials said. Names that do not have accurate information don't make it on to the voter rolls. People who fill out multiple registration forms appear only once on the voter list.

* Officials in South Carolina say they have heard of "no complaints" related to ACORN registrations. One news account says that ACORN hasn't been very active in the state since 2006, when "the State Law Enforcement Division opened an investigation into its registration efforts." But that investigation turned up few problems:

Ultimately, [ACORN] handed in many registration forms that year, but her office found questions with a few. "There weren't a whole lot of them - maybe less than 15," she said.

* One would think Texas would be a problem after one of the biggest headline-grabbers was that an ACORN staffer supposedly claimed to have registered members of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. But state election officials say there haven't been many problems.

Paul Bettencourt, a Republican registrar in Harris County -- where ACORN has been especially active -- says the threat of fraud is almost zero:

Of more than 30,000 ACORN-submitted registration cards, Bettencourt says 61 percent actually were successful in adding registered voters to the rolls. Not a bad showing when you consider that many of these duplicates are well-intentioned mistakes, the result of people who can't remember if they've registered, or they still haven't received their voter registration card in the mail, so they fill out another application.

There's an important difference between bogus voter registration applications and real, Election Day voter fraud. "Registering over and over is not fraud," Bettencourt says. " ... it's just a bogus waste of time."

And the chances of the bogusness leading to Election Day fraud? "The odds are higher than zero. That's really all you can say," Bettencourt says.

The GOP registrar also said he saw no evidence of intentional manipulation of the voter rolls. Others have noted that many of the ACORN registrations may have been wrongfully removed.

* In Florida, there was a case of one faulty registration being submitted by an ACORN worker in Collier County in September. The Republican Party blamed ACORN for fraud and helping Democrats; ACORN said it caught the problem and fired the employee.

Election officials in Collier County and surrounding areas said that, because all registrations are double-checked, no fraud would occur:

"The system would say it's not matching so the system's pretty good about that," said Collier County Chief Deputy Supervisor of Elections Gary Beauchamp. And Beauchamp says there's always the failsafe that voters have to show ID before casting ballots.

Collier, Lee and Charlotte county election officials haven't had problems with "ACORN" or any other third party voter registration organizations yet.