An ACORN official said Wednesday that its Lake County voter registration drive was one of the worst in the country for bad applications, but GOP efforts to smear the grassroots social action group are inaccurate and unfair.
"There was voter registration fraud but not vote fraud," said Jeff Ordower, Midwest director for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, during a visit Wednesday to The Times' Munster office.
Local Republicans castigated ACORN earlier this month for delivering hundreds of voter registration applications bearing fictitious signatures or the names of dead and underage people in Lake County. One infamous application was made out in the name and address of Jimmy Johns, a Crown Point fast-food outlet.
Ordower said Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin have made ACORN's voter registration program, which has experienced similar problems in other states, a national issue.
"In percentages of problematic cards versus total cards collected, (Lake County) was the highest in the country. It was a very weak drive," Ordower said.
ACORN is running a nationwide drive to register low-income residents of urban areas.
"We need to register our people -- low-income African-Americans and Latinos," Ordower said. "There is a large disparity on who has the right to vote and who is on the voter rolls."
He said it is a nonpartisan drive costing $16 million nationwide and funded by private contributions unaffiliated with either major party.
ACORN employed 126 canvassers in Gary who filled out about 7,900 new voter application forms, 687 of which were "problematic" because ACORN quality control workers couldn't verify phone numbers, driver's license numbers or other elements of the applications, Ordower said.
Lake County officials complained early this month that some ACORN vote canvassers apparently pulled names and addresses from telephone books and forged signatures.
Eric Weathersby, a local ACORN representative, said the Gary office was plagued by bad management and "12 really bad" canvassers. He said canvassers weren't given quotas but wouldn't be paid their $8 per hour salary if they underperformed on the goal of an average of 20 new registrations per day.
He said the office was shut down from Aug. 28 to Sept. 23 and reopened with a new staff that performed much better.
Lake County GOP Chairman John Curley said he doesn't believe ACORN's performance improved after the office reopened because there still were a large number of problematic applications.
Ordower said ACORN caught 98 percent of the problem applications but still had to turn the paperwork into county officials under state law.
He said Indiana's computerized voter registration database and voter identification law ensured none of the bogus registrations could have been used to commit voter impersonation.
"There is no scenario where those people on problematic cards would show up at the polls," Ordower said.