ACORN hits streets to register Nevada voters, and hilarity ensues

Granted, I have a strange sense of humor. But I can't recall a time when the filing of 39 felony charges was this funny.

In recent years, the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now has gained a national reputation for dramatically expanding voter registration rolls. The group has been given credit in some segments of the media for helping to create the great Democratic Party surge of 2008.

Along the way the organization gained a near-mythic status in conservative political circles, where ACORN is blamed for everything from the election of Barack Obama to drought in the Southwest.

On Monday, we were reminded that in Nevada the activity of ACORN was more to be laughed at than feared. Its activities during the 2008 election, as outlined in a criminal complaint and supporting affidavit filed by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Chief Deputy AG Conrad Hafen, was a veritable slapstick routine riddled with pratfalls and political pies in the face.

It's a wonder Masto, Secretary of State Ross Miller, and Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax could keep straight faces. According to the criminal complaint and supporting affidavit, this ACORN outfit figures to star in a comedy of errors titled, "The Gang That Couldn't Cheat Straight."

A vaudeville routine this lame usually comes with a "no cover, no minimum" label.

In a nutshell, ACORN is charged with 26 counts of compensation for registration of voters and 13 counts of principal to the crime of compensation of registration of voters. In Nevada, it's legal to hire someone to register voters. It's not legal to compensate through a mandated quota system.

The facts show ACORN not only had such a system, but its officials also outlined elements of it in the company's training materials. Interviews with former employees by Secretary of State Criminal Investigator Colin Haynes confirmed the illegal practice.

ACORN paid canvassers $8 or $9 per hour to register voters. That was legal. Those canvassers were then ordered to meet a 20-registration daily quota with the 21st registration bringing a $5-per-shift bonus.

Failure to meet the quota resulted in termination.

Item number 7 from ACORN's "Orientation Outline" spells out what was at stake: "They must understand what number they need to meet in order to be kept on staff. Convey to the participants that the standards are real and will be strictly enforced."

Nevada also has real standards when it comes to running elections, and Masto, Miller, and Lomax would like to convey the message that those standards will be strictly enforced.

"By structuring employment and compensation around a quota system, ACORN facilitated voter registration fraud in this state," Masto said. "Nevada will not tolerate violations of the law by individuals, nor will it allow corporations to hide behind or place blame on their employees when its training manual clearly details, condones and indeed requires illegal acts in performing the job for the corporation."

Miller lauded the efforts of investigators Haynes and Mark Medina and added, "I think the single most important message that I want to deliver today, is that this is a case of voter registration fraud, not voter fraud. There are safeguards in place to make sure that no individual who's not qualified to vote is able to cast a ballot in Nevada."

In Chicago, they can get the dead to vote. In Nevada, ACORN couldn't get the living to cast a ballot.

Lomax compiled a compelling analysis of ACORN's Clark County efforts that illustrates the group's hilarious ineptitude. ACORN claimed to have generated 91,002 "completed" applications, but actually turned in 62,905 completed new voter registration applications in 2008. Of those:

• 28,097 were duplicates.

• 39,719 of the newly registered didn't vote. (Just 23,186 did.)

• In an election with an 80.1 percent voter turnout, just 36.9 percent of the ACORN "voters" cast ballots.

That's what makes ACORN's Nevada efforts the stuff of comedy. Its officials got caught manipulating the system but delivered little bang for the buck.

"Maybe this will help deter some of this stuff in the future," Lomax said, noting, "If ACORN hadn't been around, it (voter turnout) would have been 84 percent."

Sure, but think of all the laughs we would have missed from The Gang that Couldn't Cheat Straight.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at