WASHINGTON — John McCain's campaign charged Friday that a liberal-leaning voter registration coalition is seeking to "steal votes" in next month's presidential election and alleged that Democrat Barack Obama has had a long and "intimate" relationship with the group.
Republicans have leveled similar allegations against the coalition known as Acorn in every election since at least 2000, but they have yet to produce proof that the group poses a threat to election integrity.
In its latest attack on Acorn, the McCain campaign provided no evidence that registration shenanigans by Acorn workers were more than an attempt by low-wage canvassers to meet daily quotas by filling out application forms with names from phone books or pro-football lineups.
McCain aides again sought to make a central issue of Acorn — the Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now — days after Nevada investigators raided the group's Las Vegas offices to pursue evidence that some of its registration workers had submitted fraudulent applications.
However, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat who ordered the seizure of Acorn records Tuesday, said he doubts that the phony forms will result in voter fraud. Although the Clark County, Nev., registrar has complained of similar problems for years, Miller said, no one has identified "a single instance of someone posing as somebody else and casting an illegal ballot."
The Nevada investigation, however, is a source of embarrassment to Acorn.
Acorn officials said they fired a number of workers and turned over evidence to Nevada officials months ago after they discovered phony forms.
Miller said that Acorn's Las Vegas staff included 59 convicts on prison release, some with records of identity theft. He said he'd call next week for a state inquiry to examine how such prisoners wound up in voter registration jobs allowing them access to people's names, addresses and birth dates.
Chris Edwards, manager of Acorn's voter registration drive in Nevada, said that the state Department of Corrections asked the group to hire prisoners from its work-release program.
On Friday, the Republican National Committee launched a TV ad and a Web site that links Acorn to Obama, who ran a voter registration drive on Chicago's South Side in 1992 for a group that now funds Acorn. The 1992 effort registered a record 150,000 new voters.
Obama also did legal work for Acorn in a suit to compel the city of Chicago to comply with federal voting-rights laws and spoke to a training sessions for Acorn leaders.
McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, said an $830,000 payment by the Obama campaign to Citizens Services Inc., a separate nonprofit whose Chicago offices are in the same building as Acorn's, was evidence of a "cozy" relationship with Obama.
Acorn said that Citizens Services has contracted to do field work in turning out voters for a variety of candidates and labor unions and that the group hired some Acorn staff for a brief period during the primary campaign to help supervise its door-to-door work.
Acorn's registration efforts, aimed at poor and minority urban voters who tend to vote for Democrats, have posed a growing challenge to the Republican Party, which in recent years increasingly has accused the group of "voter fraud."
Project Vote, the separate voter-registration group that finances Acorn, is promoting this year's effort as the most successful in history by a single group, with some 13,000 workers flooding county election offices in 21 states with 1.3 million applications.
In a conference call with reporters, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt of Missouri and McCain's manager Davis contended that Acorn has submitted phony registration forms in nearly every presidential battleground state.
"The only reason to commit registration fraud is to then commit voter fraud on Election Day . . . which robs people who are playing by the rules," Blunt said. He said that a dozen Acorn workers were prosecuted in 2006 and 2007 in Missouri for allegedly submitting fraudulent registration applications.
The indictments of four of those workers five days before the 2006 election became part of the scandal last year over politicization of the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The interim U.S. Attorney in Kansas City, Mo., Bradley Schlozman, was one of several Republican U.S. attorneys who were under pressure from the Bush administration to bring voter-fraud prosecutions.
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