Officals say voter registration improving in Minnesotaby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
Allegations of voter fraud are making headlines across the country in this year's presidential race. Officials in Ohio, Nevada and Michigan are all reporting a surge of fraudulent registrations, many submitted by the left-leaning advocacy group ACORN. In Minnesota, both the Hennepin and Ramsey County attorneys have begun investigations into voter registrations. But generally, officials say voter registration is actually going more smoothly this year, in part because of a new state law.
St. Paul, Minn. — Prank names like Mickey Mouse or Jimmy John are a hallmark of fraudulent voter registration in other states.
Voting officials have found names of the dead among new registrations in Indiana.
In Minnesota, a worker for ACORN, a low-income advocacy group that runs voter registration drives, was found in 2004 with hundreds of completed voter registration cards in his trunk --apparently discarded.
This fall, prosecutors in Hennepin and Ramsey counties are investigating irregularities with ACORN again.
But overall, officials say they think the elections process is more glitch-free than in the past.
They cite two reasons -- greater scrutiny of election activities and a new law that went into effect June 1st.
The law bans the practice of paying registration workers by the number of new voters they sign up.
ACORN worked that way in some parts of the country, including Minnesota, four years ago. Some Republican election groups did as well.
DFL State Senator Linda Higgins, of Minneapolis, sponsored a bill to ban the practice.
"If somebody's paid by the piece, it's just a little bit too easy for somebody to up their income in a way that isn't appropriate, so we took away that opportunity," Higgins said.
Still, there have been problems in Minnesota.
In St. Paul, almost half of more than 800 registrations collected and turned in by ACORN earlier this week were in violation of the deadline.
Fortunately, that won't prevent any voters from marking their ballots.
And the problems seem relatively small, compared to a surge of new registrations this fall.
More than 100,000 Minnesotans have signed up to vote in this year's elections, nearly half of them with the help of ACORN.
ACORN has also taken steps on its own to clean up its voter registration efforts. Each chapter has established a quality-control division that calls the phone numbers listed on registration cards, to verify the information the group collects.
But since many states require registration workers to turn in all the cards they collect, ACORN itself has been alerting authorities to suspected fraud, according to Brandon Nessen, head organizer for the Minnesota ACORN chapter.
"Some of the cards that we have collected we know ourselves are suspect, and we're being honest about that," Nessen said. "Nationwide, in over 90 percent of the cases, it is actually ACORN that identifies the problematic cards. Not the elections officials. So it's actually ACORN handing over separate stacks of voter registration cards. One that seems good according to our system, another one that is unclear, maybe there's some missing information, and then a third stack that seems clearly problematic or suspect."
Nessen says that process is part of why the organization has been late turning in the registrations.
Republicans aren't convinced that ACORN has changed its ways. Gina Countryman is spokeswoman for the Republican party in Minnesota.
"They generally try to say that this is an isolated incident and its just one worker," Countryman said. "But you know, when it happens in multiple states in multiple years, and it's basically the same set of problems every time, whether it's a series of fraudulent registrations or duplicate or late turnaround in turning them in, this is a consistent pattern of this organization nationwide."
But elections officials say the new law and better quality control do seem to be working.
In Minneapolis, Kurt Hoffman is deputy elections manager for Hennepin County. He says suspect registrations haven't been a big problem.
"In terms of numbers, it's been a very small number so far," Hoffman said.
Pre-registration for the November elections ended yesterday, so registration efforts are on hold for now.
Voters voters can still register at the polls on Election Day.
In the meantime, elections officials will be checking the registrations they have against drivers license and social security administration lists to double check the voting rolls.
- All Things Considered, 10/15/2008, 5:23 p.m.