ACORN: We're patriots, not frauds

More than 1.3 million voter registration applications: That's how many low-income people, persons of color and young people ACORN has helped register this election cycle, including almost 40,000 here in California. In a country in which one-third of the eligible voting-age population -- heavily concentrated in minority communities, urban areas and among young people -- is not registered, such a deeply patriotic act should be celebrated.

Instead, ACORN, or the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has been subjected to an unrelenting torrent of partisan attacks on the integrity of our voter registration effort, including the charge from John McCain that ACORN "may be destroying the fabric of democracy." In an editorial discussing our work on low-cost housing, The Times referred to ACORN's voter registration drive as "fraud-tolerant."

Let's look at some key facts about ACORN's national voter registration drive.

Fact: In most states, ACORN was required by law to submit every voter registration application it collects, regardless of the quality of each card.

Fact: ACORN conducts the most rigorous and sophisticated quality-control process for registering voters in the country. Each registration card is reviewed by three separate people; the registrants are then called as many as three times apiece to confirm the information on each card. In each state where we conducted voter registration efforts, ACORN submitted its cards to the agency that oversees elections twice a week in three batches: one of incomplete and spoiled cards, one of error-free cards and one of "suspicious" cards.

Fact: Out of ACORN's 1.3 million applications, 6.5% were incomplete or otherwise spoiled (about 65,000), 1.5% were in some way suspicious (about 19,500), and about 20% were duplicate registrations from people already on the voter registration rolls. These percentages are comparable to and in many cases better than those of other voter registration drives that have taken place this year.

Fact: ACORN pays its canvassers by the hour, not by the card; there is no rigid quota system. Like any employer, however, ACORN has standards to ensure that it is not paying for work that does not get done.

Fact: Some of ACORN's canvassers attempted to get paid for not doing their job by making up names or copying them from sources such as a phone book. When ACORN's quality control system caught them, the employees were fired and the suspicious cards were tagged and turned into the proper authorities. This constitutes fraud against ACORN, not fraud against the system. Over the course of the registration drive, ACORN fired 829 of its 13,000 canvassers for these and other quality-related issues.

Fact: Voter registration fraud is not voter fraud. Indeed, the fact that these cards were caught, generally by ACORN first, shows that the system works and operates with a high degree of integrity.

Why has ACORN suddenly become such a rallying cry for Republicans? The ultimate answer, of course, is to win the election. Partisan forces are unsettled by the large numbers of new voters ACORN is bringing into the system. Such rhetoric also seems to divert attention from one of the most unpatriotic activities we can imagine -- activities designed to suppress turnout through illegal purges of voter rolls, intimidation of voters at polling places, voter caging and similar tactics.

The highly charged rhetoric has had consequences. A torrent of hate mail and phone calls have poured into our offices, including death threats against our staff. Our Boston and Seattle offices were broken into last week.

The citizens ACORN has helped register this year are very real. Many of them will be coming out to vote today and in future elections. Far from being a threat, our work to encourage participation in democracy is deeply necessary for the reweaving of the fabric of our democracy. These voters should be welcomed to our democracy.

We at ACORN intend to be vigilant in our efforts to ensure that every single American who has a right to vote is allowed to exercise that right. ACORN will be out in our communities on election day, walking people to the polls and helping to make sure that everyone's vote is taken.

Martha Sanchez is chairwoman of the Los Angeles ACORN board of directors.