ACORN Involvement Undermines Confidence in Census

The U.S. Constitution doesn’t specify many duties that the federal government absolutely must carry out. For as long as our republic lasts, Americans will debate the meaning and intentions of the Constitution, but on requiring a decennial census, the Framers wrote with such clarity that no analysis is needed.

Today our nation has 100 times as many people as it did at our founding. Though much has changed, the headcount of Americans remains an essential function of our federal government. It’s how we apportion representatives in Congress and direct spending.

For such an endeavor to succeed, the process must have the trust of the American people. Unfortunately, the blatant politicization of the 2010 survey has undermined many Americans’ faith in the system.

From the get-go, the Obama Administration sought to use the census for partisan gain. First, Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel — a former leader of the House Democrats’ campaign committee — tried to usurp the census authority of the Commerce Department. A public outcry killed that West Wing power grab, but the partisan undertones continued when the administration announced ACORN as a national partner in the census soon thereafter.

ACORN’s involvement casts a cloud of suspicion over what should be a nonpartisan process. ACORN has been under investigation — and at times indictment and consent decree — for various counts of voter registration fraud related chiefly to the 2006 and 2008 elections. In more than a dozen states, prosecutors and investigators have pursued ACORN for violating the public trust in one of the most critical of public functions: the electoral process. Yet, this is the organization that the Census Bureau wants to tout as a “national partner” in the collection of some rather personal information.

Judge Says Get ACORN

Just last week, Senior District Judge Richard H. Zoller, in hearing a case against an ACORN employee for voter registration fraud in Alleghany County, Pa., urged prosecutors to zealously pursue the “real culprit” in these criminal cases. “Somebody has to go after ACORN,” the judge said. A few months ago, Nevada Democratic Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto, said ACORN’s own training manuals “clearly detail, condone and … require illegal acts.”

The Census Bureau says that ACORN is just one of thousands of organizations that help to promote the census. Fair enough. But no organization other than ACORN has raised as many red flags or engendered such a high level of distrust among the American people.

The Census Bureau says that ACORN won’t actually go door to door and that the bureau will thoroughly screen all the enumerators. Nevertheless, ACORN will recruit enumerators and provide space where people can fill out their surveys. In fact, on the form that ACORN officials filled out to become a partner, they also indicated that they will “appoint a liaison to work with the Census Bureau, encourage employees and constituents to complete and mail their questionnaire, identify job candidates and/or distribute and display recruiting materials, provide space for Be Counted sites and/or Questionnaire Assistance Centers, engage regional and local chapters of [its] organization” and a host of other activities.

Any organization so intimately involved with helping Americans fill out census forms should have credibility beyond question. ACORN, a group credibly accused of filling out fraudulent voter registrations with the names of Dallas Cowboys, utterly fails that test.

The Census Bureau alone determines who qualifies as a national partner. Unlike most rules written by government agencies, there’s no congressional involvement, no opportunity for public input and no public notice. The Census Bureau says that it will partner with any group that can encourage participation in the census. Only law-enforcement organizations, tax assessors and hate groups are specifically excluded. Given the fears and concerns that many Americans have toward ACORN, its involvement may actually discourage participation.

If the Census Bureau wants to allay mistrust and encourage full participation in the 2010 Census, it can take a giant step in that direction by dropping ACORN from its national partnership program.