Nevada indicts ACORN on felony charges

The oft-bashed community group says it's the victim, not the villain, but do those claims ring hollow this time around?

Published May 4, 2009 11:30PM (EDT)

Many years from now, when only the cockroaches are left to pick over the dry bones of our civilization, and WALL-E patrols the desolate, wind-blasted wasteland, just two things will remain from the 21st century's first decade: Former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., will still be in court fighting over the 2008 election, and someone, somewhere, will be attacking ACORN.

ACORN, you may recall, was a favorite punching bag for the Republicans all summer and fall last year. Warnings that the group was scheming to commit massive voter fraud, while almost totally baseless, even merited a mention from John McCain during one of the presidential debates.

Today comes news that Nevada has indicted ACORN, focusing on two of the organization’s officers. The charge against the organization is that it paid workers a bonus for every voter registration form turned in above a certain number, and that it maintained a quota system -- workers who didn't turn in enough forms were fired. These practices are illegal under state law; typically, workers must be paid by the hour, and ACORN claims that's its policy on a national level. This is done in order to avoid encouraging precisely the kind of phony registrations that has gotten the group in trouble. 

A spokesperson for the organization says the compensation system wasn't official policy but the decision of rogue staff members, adding, "It is unfortunate that the Secretary of State can’t distinguish the victim from the villain." But the state contends that paperwork makes it clear that ACORN executives knew, or should have known, about the payments.

This still doesn't come anywhere close to proving the most damning allegation made against the group, that it has tried to rig elections. The fraudulent registrations turned in by ACORN's workers are attempts to get some money from the group, not to get phantom voters on the rolls in order to steal an election. But if Nevada's allegations are true, it would represent another entry in a long list of ways in which the organization has proven unable or unwilling to police its own, and has ended up with some well-deserved egg on its face as a result. 

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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