The FBI is investigating whether the community activist group ACORN helped foster voter registration fraud around the nation before the presidential election.
A senior law enforcement official confirmed the investigation to The Associated Press. A second senior law enforcement official says the FBI was looking at results of inquiries in several states, including a raid on ACORN's office in Las Vegas, for any evidence of a coordinated national effort.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Justice Department regulations forbid discussing ongoing investigations particularly so close to an election.
Two spokesmen for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, on Thursday said the FBI has not contacted the group.
Voter Probes Raise Partisan Suspicions
Democrats, Allies See Politics Affecting Justice Department's Anti-Fraud Efforts
By Jo Becker and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 20, 2004; Page A05
Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney David Iglesias in New Mexico launched a statewide criminal task force to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the upcoming presidential election. The probe came after a sheriff who co-chairs President Bush's campaign in the state's largest county complained about thousands of questionable registrations turned in by Democratic-leaning groups.
"It appears that mischief is afoot and questions are lurking in the shadows," Iglesias told local reporters.
But Democratic Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, named to the task force to allay concerns that the probe was politically motivated, said the investigation is unnecessary.
"This is just an attempt to let people know that Big Brother is watching," Vigil-Giron, New Mexico's chief electionsofficial, said in an interview. "It may well be aimed at trying to keep people away from the polls."
The probe is one of several criminal inquiries into alleged voter fraud launched in recent weeks in key presidential battlegrounds, including Ohio and West Virginia, as part of a broader initiative by U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft targeting bogus registrations and other election crimes. The Justice Department has asked U.S. attorneys across the country to meet with local elections officials and launch publicity campaigns aimed at getting people to report irregularities.
Most of the complaints were completely without basis. At the end of the day we decided we did not have any cases we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt ... we cannot prosecute rumor and innuendo.
The exterior facts are these. We know that Steven Biskupic, the U.S. Attorney in Milwaukee, was initially put on a list of those to be fired by Karl Rove’s office. Then suddenly Mr. Biskupic got deeply engaged in a series of truly dubious cases, all of which had a distinctly Rovian political flavor. First, Biskupic became one of the nation’s most enthusiastic participants in the “voting fraud” fraud. He brought an array of insane cases, including one against a grandmother, which were detailed by The New York Times in an acid review of Biskupic’s mercenary political style. These cases generally involved voters who made honest mistakes about registration, but were prosecuted anyway (with many convicted). The targets were always Democrats who were from the major threat communities publicly identified by Rove—minority groups from the inner city. And the prosecutions were transparently pursued for purposes of voter suppression (i.e., an arguably criminal agenda).
People for the American Way (PFAW) will take out a full-page ad (PDF link) in The New York Times charging the right wing with misleading the public in the ACORN voter registration controversy. The ad also challenges the press for failing to examine the fabrications made against the voter registration group and turning a blind-eye toward the right wing’s ongoing effort to disenfranchise voters.
The media’s frenzy surrounding the situation has now reached a fever pitch and enabled John McCain’s outrageous and baseless comments in last night’s presidential debate accusing ACORN of “maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”
“What’s really threatening to destroy the fabric of our democracy are right-wing efforts to suppress millions of newly registered voters, both Democrats and Republicans around the country,” said Kathryn Kolbert, President of People for the American Way.
“ACORN should be commended for registering 1.3 million Democrats and Republicans to vote in this historic upcoming Presidential election,” said Kolbert. “Instead, CNN and other typically independent news outlets have focused on sensationalistic stories about a few bad apples instead of investigating the systematic voter disenfranchisement that the right wing has engaged.”
The Wisconsin Republican Party has issued a call for volunteer poll watchers for Election Day, and the criteria is a little specific, seeking especially folks made of sterner stuff.
Jonathan Waclawski, the party's election day operations, wrote in a Sept. 8 e-mail that he needed contact information for people "who would potentially be willing to volunteer ... at inner city (more intimidating) polling places. Particularly, I am interested in names of Milwaukee area veterans, policemen, security personnel, firefighters etc. ... If you have any connections with such organizations, please pass that information on."
The e-mail fell into the hands of an Obama supporter, who passed it to the Obama campaign, who released it today after a news conference with its campaign director and general counsel, who discussed voter registration, voter education and voter protection.
The Obama team pointed to Waclawski's e-mail as ground-level tactics that could create concerns among voters.
"This is much ado about nothing. I don't see anything wrong with this," said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman with the Wisconsin GOP. "Intimidating was referring to the polling places, not to poll watchers who would be intimidating," she said. "The way I read this we are looking for people to go to intimidating places.