Several municipal clerks across the state are reporting fraudulent and duplicate voter registration applications, most of them from a nationwide community activist group working to help low- and moderate-income families.
The majority of the problem applications are coming from the group ACORN, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which has a large voter registration program among its many social service programs. ACORN’s Michigan branch, based in Detroit, has enrolled 200,000 voters statewide in recent months, mostly with the use of paid, part-time employees.
“There appears to be a sizeable number of duplicate and fraudulent applications,” said Kelly Chesney, spokeswoman for the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office. “And it appears to be widespread.”
Chesney said her office has had discussions with ACORN officials after local clerks reported the questionable applications to the state. Chesney said some of the applications are duplicates and some appear to be names that have been made up. The Secretary of State’s Office has turned over several of the applications to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Friday declined to confirm whether an investigation was taking place.
In recent years, ACORN’s voter registration programs have come under investigation in Ohio, Colorado, Missouri and Washington, with some employees convicted of voter fraud.
ACORN officials said they were looking into the problem.
“We’ll do an investigation to see what’s happening,” said David Lagstein, a spokesman for the Detroit office. “If it’s really as many as that, it warrants further investigation.”
In Pontiac, where several thousand applications have been submitted by ACORN in the last few weeks for the November election, the clerk’s office is finding that numerous applications are sometimes filed under one name.
“What it causes is a slowdown of our operations,” said Pontiac City Clerk Yvette Talley. “They’re steadily coming in, and we are finding a huge number of duplications.”
Talley said she could not provide an exact number.
Clerks are required to check their records against a statewide database of all registered voters within their jurisdiction, so it would be unlikely that duplications would allow voters to cast their votes more than once, Talley said.
“We catch them all, but it’s taking up a lot of our time,” she said.
In Oak Park, clerk Sandra Gadd said they have been seeing “lots of duplication” from ACORN in recent months but were reassured by ACORN officials that the group was working to correct the problem.
“They’ve been very cooperative,” Gadd said. “I spoke with them this week. They called me, and they’re willing to go door-to-door to do whatever they have to do to take care of this.”
ACORN is the nation’s largest community organization for low- and moderate-income families. Created more than 30 years ago, it has branches in 100 cities and claims 350,000 families as members. It works to help create affordable housing and health care, and to improve job conditions and neighborhood schools.
Lagstein said ACORN’s Detroit office has hired dozens of employees for the voter registration program and that any problems likely stem from sloppiness or incompetence — not an intent to let people vote more than once.
“We’re proud of our efforts to increase voter registration, and we have aggressive training for our staff to make sure the cards are filled out appropriately,” he said.
ACORN has a method to track the workers who filled out individual registration cards, which will allow investigators to question the workers, Lagstein said.
“We certainly do our best to keep the duplications as low as possible, so we’ll have to evaluate what’s happening here,” he said.