Friday, October 17, 2008

ACLU Says DOJ Should Protect Voting Rights, Not Suppress Them

WASHINGTON – In response to news reports that the FBI has initiated an investigation into whether the community group ACORN has committed voter fraud in its voter registration drive, the American Civil Liberties Union urges the government to stop engaging in partisan probes that could cast a chilling effect on voter participation. The Department of Justice should focus instead on the true threat to the elections this November – the widespread possibility that millions of voters could be disfranchised through voter suppression schemes such as unlawful purging and racially motivated voter intimidation.

“The ACLU and other civil rights groups have repeatedly warned Justice Department officials that high-profile, partisan voter investigations before Election Day have a chilling effect on voter turnout,” said Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Despite this feedback, the Department of Justice and the FBI continue with these highly publicized and partisan efforts prior to this historic election rather than stopping unlawful behavior in states all over the country where eligible voters are being improperly purged from the rolls.”

During a September 8, 2008, meeting with the ACLU and other civil rights groups, Attorney General Michael Mukasey called the smooth running of this election his highest priority. The ACLU urged him to live up to this commitment. Instead, it appears that the government is pouring resources into actions that encourage voter suppression.

ACORN’s voter registration drive has helped over 1.3 million low-income people, minorities and young voters register to vote. While there have been imperfections in the program, reports indicate that ACORN itself “flagged” suspicious forms for election officials’ review, but biased election officials improperly publicized them as instances of voter fraud.

Furthermore, fraud perpetuated against ACORN by workers submitting erroneous registration forms at the end of the day do not translate into voter fraud at the polls. Recent research shows that individual instances of in-person voter fraud are extremely rare and pose no significant threat to the integrity of elections.

“Election officials should concentrate their limited resources on expanding access to the ballot and banning true threats to federal elections,” added Vagins. “Mickey Mouse is not coming to an election booth near you. However, the over one million new and young voters registered by ACORN may think twice before casting a ballot. And if voters do show up only to find they have been improperly purged from the rolls, the tragedy will be that DOJ did not enforce the laws that could have prevented that.”

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