The NAACP and other community groups came to the defense of ACORN. (Photo: Reuters)
Left-leaning groups Wednesday came to the defense of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), accusing Republicans of seeking to suppress voter turnout by attacking the group.
"This latest attack on ACORN follows a sorry pattern, played out in election after election," said Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP, outlining what he called a history of voter suppression tactics by the Republican Party.
Bond spoke at a press conference at the National Press Club. He was joined by leaders of ACORN and People for the American Way (PFAW). In addition, a statement of support was provided from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), of which ACORN has been a member since 2007.
"Republicans have practiced an assortment of subtle and overt methods to suppress and smother voter registration and turnout" throughout the party's history, Bond said. "Ever since they first practiced voter suppression, they've yelled, 'Voter fraud!' "
Conservatives have accused ACORN of voter fraud over the past week after the group submitted thousands of faulty voter registration cards across at least 10 states. Law enforcement officials raided the group's Las Vegas office last week, and headlines of ACORN-registered cards bearing the names "Mickey Mouse" and "Tony Romo" (quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys) have stoked conservative criticism.
McCain sought to attack Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) by linking him to the group in a Web ad last week, and a litany of Republicans - the McCain campaign included - have called for Justice Department and congressional investigations into ACORN's activities.
Obama, as McCain's campaign has noted, represented ACORN in a lawsuit early in his career and gave at least two guest lectures to ACORN members during his days of community organizing in Chicago. Obama's campaign also paid $800,000 to ACORN-affiliated Citizens Services, Inc. for get-out-the-vote efforts during the Democratic primary.
ACORN and Obama have denied that Obama ever worked for ACORN, and the Obama camp has called attacks on ACORN "a strategic and cynical ploy."
The groups on Wednesday echoed ACORN's defense against the GOP's allegations: that cries of voter fraud are partisan attacks aimed at pushing restrictive policies, such as voter ID laws, that would narrow the electorate and disenfranchise low- and middle-income Americans.
McCain "should be ready to disavow the organized effort his party has made to subvert the democratic process," said PFAW President Kathryn Kolbert at Wednesday's press conference.
"Those who are stirring the 'voter fraud' pot don't want to talk about voter suppression and intimidation. They want to use the code word of 'voter fraud' as cover for their real objective of voter suppression. It's a sad day when a campaign's success strategy is dependent upon keeping voters away from the polls," she said.
Kolbert and Bond pointed to recent reports of irregularities that could disenfranchise some of their organizations' constituents, such as a Center for Independent Media report that Michigan GOP leaders had planned to use home foreclosure lists to throw voters off the rolls, and a New York Times report that election officials in swing states had erroneously taken tens of thousands of voters off the rolls after using the wrong databases to verify their names and addresses.
"On Election Day, we will certainly see some voting issues, but not the ones that the right wing is talking about," Kolbert said.
Responding to the groups' assertions, a McCain aide said the campaign wants every qualified voter to have an honest opportunity to vote. The campaign reached out to the Obama camp and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in September with a proposal to work together to fight voter intimidation and fraud, the aide said.
The Obama campaign rejected the proposal later that month as "a starkly political maneuver to deflect attention from the reality of the suppression strategies pursued by" all levels of the GOP.