Voter registrations questioned

The State Board of Elections is investigating suspicious voter registration forms submitted by a grass-roots organization whose problems have drawn national attention.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, conducted a voter drive that registered nearly 28,000 people in North Carolina. But some of the forms it filed had information that may have been copied from phone books, local election officials said.

Durham County's elections office turned over about 120 suspect forms to the state for investigation about three weeks ago, and Wake County's elections office sent in about 30 suspicious forms last week.

Gary Bartlett, the state election board's executive director, said ACORN has cooperated with the investigation into the questionable Durham forms. The office received information about the Wake forms Friday, Bartlett said, but no other local elections official has alerted the state office to ACORN-related problems.

Mecklenburg County has not had problems with ACORN forms, the head of elections said. Work on the Durham case isn't finished, Bartlett said, but the problem does not appear to be widespread and seems to stem from “one greedy person” trying to fill out enough forms to get paid.

He said he expected the board's investigator to refer the Durham case to the local district attorney for prosecution.

ACORN is a community organizing group that runs issue campaigns and was active a few years ago in ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage. It pays workers to register voters.

In North Carolina, the group had about 40 people a day working to register voters in Durham and Charlotte, said Pat McCoy, the group's state director. While the organization no longer requires workers to meet registration quotas, McCoy said, it does require them to show evidence of steady work.

McCoy said he had not heard about problems with Wake forms. The group shut down its Wake operation because of the shortage of good voter registration spots, he said.

ACORN workers receive training and can be fired for returning incomplete or suspicious applications, McCoy said. He could not say whether the problems in Durham resulted in any ACORN employees being fired.

ACORN must return to the local elections boards the forms its workers submit, even the questionable ones. ACORN separates forms with potential problems from the rest and notifies election officials about them, McCoy said.

Problems with the group's voter registration efforts are making national news. A local elections board in Missouri reported several hundred problem applications. Nevada authorities raided ACORN headquarters in Las Vegas in an investigation of fake registration forms.

Republican John McCain's presidential campaign is publicizing the fraud investigations.

“We can't allow leftist groups like ACORN to steal this election,” read a Monday fundraising e-mail from the campaign, signed by vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

McCoy said the McCain campaign is exaggerating the problems for political gain.

ACORN claims to have registered about 1.3 million voters nationally since last year, and the problem applications represent a tiny fraction of those filed.