Sandwiched between two heavily populated urban centers where voter roles are swelled by inner-city voters recruited by ACORN is the rest of Missouri, the rural heart of a bellwether state where presidential nominee John McCain is still the candidate of choice.
“Senator McCain has to win Missouri to win the White House,” said Jared Craighead, executive director of the state’s Republican Party.
On Sunday, McCain was five or six points behind Obama in most state polls with a plus or minus error factor of four. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- usually referred to as ACORN -- wants to keep it that way.
Missourians have voted for the presidential winner in all but one election since 1904, and brings 11 electoral votes to the table.
This election, however, the influence of ACORN with neophyte voters without the sophistication or interest to registers themselves may overpower the traditional voice of consistant conservative voters in rural Missouri, worried Republicans predict.
Time after time since ACORN developed into a social and political force in St. Louis and Kansas City two decades ago, it has used means fair and foul to influence local and statewide elections by energizing the otherwise ignored inner-city precincts, events have shown.
In November 1993, ACORN helped register more than 100,000 voters from poor urban neighborhoods in St. Louis and Kansas City to pass an amendment to the Missouri Constitution to legalize gambling. The same amendment was defeated by 1,200 votes the preceding April on the strength of heated rural voters when ACORN wasn’t involved.
When another edition of the amendment was rolled out for the November general election with strong ACORN support funded by $12 million paid by gambling interests to finance the campaign it passed by about 54,000 votes.
In 2006, ACORN was credited by Republicans with helping to defeat Congressman Jim Talent in his race against Democrat Claire McCaskill for the U.S. Senate.
Last April, eight of the ACORN organizers who ran the voter registration drive in St. Louis during the vicious campaign pleaded guilty to election fraud charges in federal court. They were accused of submitting registration cards with false names and addresses in the 2006 election.
Two weeks ago, officials in Jackson County, home to Kansas City, joined two other states in investigating ACORN when hundreds of bogus registrants began popping up.
"I don't even know the entire scope of it because registrations are coming in so heavy," Charlene Davis, the county’s elections board co-director, told The Associated Press at the time.
Ultimately more than 400 registration cards with false names and addresses were discovered. The forms, she said, came from ACORN.
Missouri is particularly important to Republicans, both parties agree, as they trail in most of the other swing states, including Florida, Ohio and Virginia.
Both candidates have blitzed the state with political ads and multiple visits, with Sen. Barack Obama reportedly spending $6 million on media advertising and McCain almost $5.5 million.
It may not be enough for McCain. ACORN has enjoyed strong support from organized labor since its founding in 1970.
Its founder and chief organizer is Wade Rathke, who also serves as chief organizer for Service Employees International Union Local 100, which represents about 5,000 workers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.
The union is powerful in neighboring Missouri as well, particularly in St. Louis and Kansas City where about 25,000 SEIU workers staff hotels, restaurants, hospitals and the gambling industry. It has endorsed Obama and offers a voter registration guide on its Web site
ACORN admittedly targets well-funded registration drives in close-race states like Missouri.
Talent lost to McCaskill by less than 50,000 votes, about the same number of voters ACORN claimed it had registered.
During that contest, city election officials in St. Louis, overwhelmed by more than 5,000 suspicious-looking voter registration cards, sent letters to the registrants asking them to contact the election office. Fewer than 40 people responded, officials later said.
The city’s election director, Scott Leiendecker, said at the time that only about 10 percent to 15 percent of all ACORN registration cards reaching his office were legitimate.
In neighboring St. Louis County, election officials came across hundreds of bogus voter address changes in the months leading up to November. Most of the suspicious information had been submitted by ACORN, voter registration officials there said.
Across the state in Kansas City, election official Ray James, along with his Democratic counterpart, Sharon Turner Buie, announced that more than 15,000 registration forms were “questionable.”
On Nov. 2, 2006, a federal grand jury indicted four ACORN employees for “knowingly and willingly” submitting false information to Kansas City election authorities.
A U.S. district court judge subsequently dismissed a two-count indictment against one of the defendants at the recommendation of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. It turned out ACORN had used her identity “without her permission.”
This year ACORN claims the political action group has registered about 34,000 voters in St. Louis for the presidential election.
Currently there are no problems to report at the St. Louis Election Board, Leiendecker said.
Despite the assurances from Leiendecker, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, a St. Louis Republican, spoke out and condemned the continued problems Missouri election officials in St. Louis and Kansas City have endured in every recent election. Danforth and former U.S. Sen. Warren Rudman head McCain's "Honest and Open Elections Committee."
“It's an outrage," Danforth said in his press conference. "It breaks the system down. There's a big difference between registration drives -- that's great -- and turning in bogus names. Register people, but register real people. Don't register, as was the case in our state in the last presidential election, where a dog was registered."
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