Democrat Al Franken's emergence as the victor of the marathon Minnesota election battle triggered growing complaints from those who blame former Sen. Norm Coleman's defeat on the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN).
Matthew Vadum, senior editor for the Capital Research Center think tank, stops just short of saying ACORN grabbed the election away from Coleman, although he doesn't rule out that possibility.
He points out that ACORN registers voters who are expected to vote Democratic in overwhelming numbers, based on demographics. In the year leading up to the election, ACORN tallied 43,000 new registrations in Minnesota. That probably was a decisive factor in a contest decided by 312 votes out of nearly 3 million ballots cast.
"It just seems probable that they got enough fraudulent registrations in, in order to swing the vote," Vadum says. "But I don't have evidence that they did. More likely than not, it played a role."
Vadum says he has no evidence that ACORN manipulated the outcome in Minnesota, and Coleman's own attorneys have said the same thing. But Vadum tells Newsmax that ACORN "set in motion a process that allowed an election to be stolen."
That process began when ACORN helped Minnesota's secretary of state, Mark Ritchie, get elected in 2006, Vadum says. Ritchie is a favorite son of the George Soros-funded Secretary of State Project (SOS), which has succeeded in installing partisans in key state positions that can influence election outcomes.
Ritchie, for example, presided over the recount that saw Coleman lose an apparent lead of 775 votes on Election Day. All of Coleman's legal challenges to that recount were thwarted.
Vadum blames Coleman's repeated setbacks on "the permissive environment created by the secretary of state who is ACORN's man — endorsed by them, and ACORN supporters gave money to him."
None of which indicates ACORN has done anything improper, let alone illegal, in Minnesota.
Elsewhere, it's a different story.
The Justice Department and over a dozen states have launched investigations into ACORN's activities, alleging that ACORN set illegal quotas that pressured canvassers into submitting fraudulent registrations.
Prosecutors filed 39 felony counts against the group in Nevada. Four former ACORN workers are standing trial on charges in Pittsburgh that they forged or illegally solicited voter registrations in November. And Cuyahoga County, Ohio, prosecutors have indicted Darnell Nash, a voter ACORN registered, on a charge of voting illegally. Officials say Nash registered to vote on nine occasions, using different names and addresses each time. And investigators say as many as 4,000 ACORN voter registrations in Ohio may have been fraudulent.
So can Coleman blame his woes on voter fraud?
"I think it's a possibility," says Heritage Foundation election expert Hans A. von Spakovsky. "But we don't know whether that has occurred, because the secretary of state is not taking the steps that are necessary to investigate and verify the accuracy of its registration list."
To some, it seems curious that Minnesota, the only state with a marathon election dispute stemming from the 2008 election, has thus far refused to launch an investigation into ACORN or possible vote fraud. Investigators in Dakota County are looking into about 50 cases in which felons may have voted illegally.
Republicans worry even an infinitesimal level of voter fraud could have altered the outcome in Minnesota, and thereby altering the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
Heather S. Heidelbaugh, vice president of the Republican National Lawyers Association, tells Newsmax: "When you're running for U.S. Senate and you're going to affect potentially the balance of the Senate, and potentially affect whether major pieces of legislation are passed and whether our nation changes course in major philosophical ways — you're talking about an enormous, enormous effect of potential fraud."
Although Ritchie and other Minnesota election officials continue to tout the Gopher State's reputation for fair and honest elections, many observers have grown skeptical.
"I certainly don't believe that claim survives much beyond the surface," opines von Spakovsky. "When you dig just a little bit into their election system you see many problems. And this recount — and this race which is so close — really emphasizes the importance of those problems."
Specifically, von Spakovsky says, "Minnesota really has no system for checking and verifying the accuracy of its voter registration system."
Verifying the legitimacy of voter registrations is the primary concern of Minnesota Majority, a nonprofit organization with Republican backing that has uncovered 2,800 instances in which deceased Minnesotans were listed as having "voted" in November's elections.
The secretary of state's office has dismissed those concerns, blaming local election officials' data-processing errors.
Minnesota Majority has filed a lawsuit alleging that Ritchie and 25 county election officials failed to reconcile their registrations — the routine process of matching votes cast with actual people registered and living at valid addresses. Cleaning up the voter rolls periodically is required by law.
Minnesota Majority founder Jeff Davis says he also is very concerned also about votes cast illegally by felons, by non-citizens, and by individuals who provided residential addresses that do not exist, including "city parks, business developments, freeways, and empty lots."
"Minnesota is doing absolutely nothing to investigate or verify any of that information," Von Spakovsky says. "It points out that in a close election where every vote counts, that kind of a sloppy system can allow someone to steal an election."
None of which, it should be noted again, proves that ACORN did anything wrong in Minnesota. Elections, it should be noted, are highly competitive. The candidate who does a better job of registering voters and getting them out to the polls naturally enjoys an advantage.
But the problem in Minnesota, Vadum says, is that the Coleman-Franken election was "just littered with glaring irregularities." And the response of state officials has been to drone on about Minnesota's immaculate elections.
Davis is calling for a federal investigation of voter-registration procedures in the state. He tells Newsmax that the state's failure to reconcile its voter database casts a shadow over the validity of some 30,000 ballots cast in November.
If details eventually do emerge that link vote-registration activists in Minnesota to the same abuses that occurred elsewhere, Heidelbaugh says ACORN may not get the last laugh for sending Franken to the U.S. Senate after all.
ACORN's reputation may "suffer even more severely," she says, "because they may have affected the entire tenor and makeup of the Senate, thereby giving a supermajority in that chamber. It could be a tremendous effect of fraud."
And Vadum, for one, says flatly of Coleman: "He was robbed."
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