What to do if you’re running an election campaign and could be inviting scrutiny by having paid ACORN-like groups helping you with your Get Out the Vote efforts? Fortunately, there is some professional advice from an experienced campaign manager on how to cope, now that ACORN is no longer…um… popular.
Dan Kelly, who managed the 2010 election campaign of Democrat and Working Families Party Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, admitted recently, in Campaigns and Elections magazine, that “Connecticut has a long tradition of running horrific paid GOTV programs.” Mr. Kelly describes “mutinous canvassers, ACORN-style groups lying about voter contacts, and local activists demanding cash to pay ‘their people’ on Election Day.”
That’s funny. Because last year in Connecticut, state investigators cleared ACORN of charges of voter fraud brought by Republican registrars of voters in Bridgeport and Stamford. The registrars complained their offices had received hundreds of illegitimate registration cards following ACORN voter drives. One Bridgeport card, for example, was filled out for a 7-year old girl, whose age was listed as 27.
For those unfamiliar with Connecticut, Stamford is Gov. Malloy’s native city, and Bridgeport…well, Bridgeport has a distinction all its own.
The city of Bridgeport is where the “unraveling” of Gov. Malloy’s campaign began to take place and had to be remedied rather quickly on Election Day evening in 2010. The governor received his “win,” in part, thanks to then Secretary of State and current U.S. Senate candidate Susan Bysiewicz, who failed to print a sufficient number of election ballots for the city of Bridgeport, and a Democratic judge who subsequently ordered the polls to remain open later to compensate for those who did not receive ballots during the day. Just standard procedure, it seems. But, back to ACORN.
The report from the Connecticut Elections Enforcement Commission stated, “The evidence does not provide a sufficient basis to determine that Connecticut ACORN had an institutional or systematic role in designing and implementing a scheme or strategy to fraudulently register or enroll electors … prior to the November 2, 2008 election.”
The commission’s investigation found that ACORN paid workers, who were screened using prior employment records, a flat $8 an hour to canvass neighborhoods and register voters, regardless of how many completed cards were handed in at the end of a shift. Workers had to initial each card they collected and supervisors reviewed batches of completed cards to determine if they surpassed a threshold of 30 percent deficient. Since ACORN, under state law, was required to turn in all cards to registrars, the organization would label at the top those identified as defective. However, that is where the process fell apart, according to the Elections Enforcement Commission.
“The Commission finds ACORN … maintained a system designed to prevent or diminish inaccuracies or inefficiencies in the voter registration drive,” wrote the commission. “Unfortunately these attempts to flag problem cards were rendered useless upon processing when the top portion … was separated and discarded from the voter registration card below, which was retained for record keeping.”
The commission states that the evidence against ACORN was insufficient, but primarily because commission members experienced difficulty in contacting witnesses due to the fact that canvassers and applicants were discovered to be either no longer living at the addresses provided, or… imprisoned.
Even campaign manager Dan Kelly admits, “Sometimes it’s better not to ask questions.”
Mr. Kelly does provide some suggestions for those campaign managers who would like to avoid the oft-repeated mistakes associated with paid GOTV programs. Some of them are:
1. Play by the same rules. Make sure the people you pay to “knock and drag” supporters to the polls are all on the same page. Dan Kelly suggests having a meeting, early on in the campaign, to insure that all campaigns in the state are operating in the same way. Still, he cautions, “be sensitive that it’s a big change in some areas.”
2. Work with community leaders, but on your program. Dan Kelly warns that paid GOTV efforts could be difficult now that “small-time political bosses or operatives” will not be getting cash payments prior to Election Day for the purpose of “recruiting grassroots muscle.” Kelly advises tactful warnings to “bosses” that you will be hiring your paid “knock and drag” people directly. At the same time, you want to avoid offending these “operatives” so that they will still remain involved in the campaign. Though you don’t want to lose a valuable “operative,” it is important, according to Kelly, to let your “small-time bosses” know that you have “standards” that must be met if their workers wish to remain on the job.
3. Pay for specifics. The issue of actually how to pay your GOTV staff is a bit tricky. Consistent with the Connecticut Elections Enforcement Commission, Dan Kelly recommends paying your staff by the hour or the shift. He advises, “Drivers who don’t do voter contact should be paid less. If a driver will knock, pay them the same, but offer a gas card.”
Kelly further warns: “Thinking of paying by the door knock, call, voter registration or absentee ballot request? Be careful–you’ve left yourself wide open to fraud.”
Kelly recommends using bonuses and other forms of compensation to encourage workers’ performance, but urges caution that in basing an entire pay system on “knocks or voter registrations will encourage a system of manufactured results and faulty data.”
4. Treat it like a real job. Dan Kelly recommends that all staff sign contracts that are approved by your attorney. Responsibilities, relationship with the campaign, payment process, and termination policy should all be included in the contract. Kelly states that “daily reporting” is a must, but admits this will be a rough spot in states with long-standing paid GOTV efforts.
5. Do quality control, but don’t lose your mind. Dan Kelly says accountability and clear standards are important in a paid GOTV effort, but he advises managers to insure that everyone feels like they are part of the team.
Dan Kelly’s suggestions for “cleaning up” paid GOTV programs illustrate the extent of voter fraud, at least in Connecticut, prior to the ACORN shake-down. With the most important elections of our lifetime coming this November, and given this administration’s insistence that voter fraud is not a problem, American citizens need to be vigilant about the forms voter fraud may take in the coming months. How many officials are currently in office who were never verily elected by American citizens?
Consider volunteering in your local community with True the Vote, an initiative developed for citizens, by citizens, to equip volunteers to actively protect the rights of legitimate voters.