Republican panel stirs teapot, starts tempest

The Republican National Committee fired from the lip the other day, declaring “rampant” voter registration fraud in North Carolina and warning the state about voter fraud Nov. 4.

Well, no. Turns out the RNC didn't have any information that the State Board of Elections wasn't already on to. And it had little context about the state's previous work to avoid voter fraud and any of a number of other problems in voting.

What the RNC had was a bad case of the heebie-jeebies, as it well might. This election season looks like a bad one for Republicans everywhere, and the GOP committee seized on reports of past and current problems in other states about a Chicago-based organization known as ACORN – the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. ACORN has registered 1.3 million people nationwide in the past two years, including almost 28,000 in North Carolina.

ACORN has some ties to the campaign of Democrat Barack Obama. And because there have been significant problems with some bogus voter registration forms turned in by ACORN workers in other states, the RNC evidently assumed widespread problems with registrations in North Carolina, too.

But state election director Gary Bartlett said there's no evidence of a significant fraud problem. According to news reports, about 135 bogus registration forms were filled out by ACORN canvassers – 104 from Durham, 30 from Wake and one from Mecklenburg County. That's out of about 700,000 new voter registrations in the current election season.

One reason state officials know this is that they have the completed forms, which by law must include those ACORN had already discovered to be bogus. Second, elections board officials say that names without accurate information, as well as duplicates, don't wind up on voter lists. That minimizes opportunity for fraud.

That doesn't mean state officials can take the possibility of fraud lightly. They must be vigilant about attempted false voter registration, and submit potential criminal cases to appropriate authorities for possible prosecution. But the only thing that's rampant right now is the RNC's overwrought reaction to a large and healthy outpouring of public interest in voting in this election in this state.