Jillian Engel

First it was “change.” Then it was “experience.” Two weeks ago it was “Joe the Plumber.”

With only days until Nov. 4, a new buzzword has emerged from the political campaign process: voter fraud.

Over the past month, several allegations have been laid against ACORN-the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now-of planning to generate fraudulent voter registration cards.

House Minority House Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has asked the Bush administration to pull all public funding for the organization, claiming ACORN has received $31 million in federal funding since 1998.

The Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank, filed suit against ACORN in mid-October on behalf of two Warren County residents, with the residents alleging ACORN has engaged in a pattern of corrupt activity that amounts to organized crime, according to a press release on the Buckeye Institute’s Web site.

According to Amy Teitelman, head organizer of the Cincinnati ACORN office, this is not the first election ACORN has been accused of registering voters more than once or turning in false registration cards.

Teitelman said ACORN hired more than 13,000 part-time workers in 2008 to register voters in 21 states. The organization sent in 1.3 million voter registration cards to the respective county board of elections offices.

According to Teitelman, ACORN canvassers follow a strict regime when conducting registration campaigns.

Teitelman said canvassers attend extensive training on how to identify fraud and the consequences of fraud, ultimately signing an anti-fraud document.

After a days work of soliciting passerbys to vote, the canvassers return to the office for a check-out process that includes an ACORN quality control team inspecting each card. The quality control team attempts to contact the registrants on the cards to determine if they are the person who signed up to vote.

But even if a card appears to have the same handwriting as the canvasser or someone is registered more than once, Teitelman said Ohio law requires that each registration card must be turned into the board of elections.

“We take the extra step to tag a card and say it was suspicious before we turn it into the board of elections,” Teitelman said. “If the board of elections wants to prosecute the person, we would be willing to cooperate with them. But (the board of elections) has not gotten in touch with us here in southwest Ohio.”

Teitelman said that of the 52,335 voter registration cards turned into the Hamilton County board of elections, only 1 to 2 percent of cards were flagged as suspicious.

According to Kevin Kidder, media relations coordinator for the Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, each county’s board of elections inputs the information from the registration cards into a system that sends a non-forwardable notice to the voter. If the notice is returned, the information is flagged as a mismatch.

Kidder said Brunner announced that the initial estimate of new voter registration mismatches amounted to 200,000 since January 2008.

However, Kidder said voters shouldn’t be worried.

“The fact that records don’t match up is not reason enough to take you off the (list),” Kidder said. “The mismatch could be something as simple as your name with one letter off, but the records are sent to places like the DMV to match you up with social security records. The bipartisan boards do a great job of voter registration checks and making sure everything’s working.”

Betty McGary, director of the Butler County Board of Elections, said a possibility for voter registration fraud is the fact that Ohio does not require any type of identification when signing up to vote.

“There are two basic issues to remember,” McGary said. “If there is no identification required and you turn those registrations in, when those cards come into the board of elections we catch any fraudulent address. And, when that person goes to the polls to vote, they’re going to catch it because that person is not going to be able to produce accurate ID.”

The voter registration fraud allegations have not fazed Butler County voter turnouts, according to McGary.

“I don’t see the possibility of voter fraud affecting voter turnout at all in Butler County,” McGary said. “We will make history this year with a … high turnout.”

McGary said there are 245,000 registered voters in Butler County in 2008, including 34,000 requests for early ballots.

Teitelman said despite the allegations against ACORN, it is launching a non-partisan “get out and vote” campaign to target new- or low- frequency voters from low- and moderate-income families.

“People are not being kept from the polls just because there’s this environment of fear that their vote isn’t going to count,” Teitelman said. “We believe that a democracy works when more and more people are participating. People are still excited about this election and they want to turn out and they want to go vote.”