Accountability

Published — October 30, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Hoosier secretary of state takes first crack at ACORN

Introduction

Forget Obama and McCain; the hottest battle in Indiana this election season is between the secretary of state and ACORN. The left-leaning voter registration group has been caught up in a dispute over more than 400,000 invalid registration ballots that its workers collected or created around the country. Part of the flap over ACORN’s actions stems from the fact that in many states it’s illegal to toss application forms once they’re filled out, even if they’re clearly false. But ACORN has been getting flak for turning in those forms. What should the group have done? That’s the question PaperTrail posed to six secretaries of state offices recently, all of which concluded the organization’s best bet was to turn in the forms to authorities and flag those that were likely fraudulent. But in Indiana, Republican Secretary of State Todd Rokita is calling for an investigation of the group – even though Indiana law would appear to make it illegal both to submit the forms and not to submit them.

Rokita sent a six-page letter to federal, state, and local prosecutors calling for a criminal investigation into 1,438 applications submitted by ACORN to the Lake County Board of Elections and Registration. In the letter he writes that a preliminary investigation by his office shows that the organization violated a variety of state and federal laws, including an Indiana law that prohibits the submission of “incomplete, forged or fraudulent” applications. Rokita concludes that, “Contrary to the claims of ACORN, a person who complies with the law to submit completed voter registration applications is not able as a result to evade the law against knowingly submitting false or fraudulent applications.” That last stipulation takes it a step farther than most states, where submitting the false forms is not a crime.

Rokita’s letter also charges that ACORN continued to submit false applications, rather than offering evidence and contact information for the workers collecting or creating the fake ballots. ACORN officials in Indiana dispute that charge, saying they followed the state law compelling them to turn in all completed forms, but also helped identify false applications and expressed a willingness to talk to officials about how to deal with workers who had turned in false ballots.

What is not clear in the letter, though, is what, once the fake ballots were recognized, ACORN should have done with them, given that it’s apparently illegal both to turn in and to not turn in the forms in Indiana. The letter does not address that issue and a spokesperson in the secretary’s office said “no more details” beyond the letter were being offered at present.

Perhaps the organization should take note of two details Rokita did include in the letter. Failing to file a registration form “after the . . . form has been executed” is a Class A misdemeanor in Indiana, which carries a maximum one-year sentence and a fine of no more than $5,000. Knowingly submitting a false application? Well, that’s a Class D felony – six months to three years in jail and a possible $10,000 fine.

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