Acorn Role in the Census Challenged

Bob J

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Mar 30, 2009
Quincy MA
About time......[smile]

WASHINGTON -- Some Republican members of Congress want the U.S. Census Bureau to end a 2010 Census partnership with Acorn, the community organizing group that was hit by accusations of voter-registration fraud in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Acorn, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, signed up in February with the bureau to be a "2010 Census Partner," which includes, among other things, identifying job candidates, encouraging its members to participate in the count and distributing literature explaining the importance of the census.

But in the wake of accusations that some former Acorn employees engaged in voter registration fraud in the 2006 and 2008 elections, the partnership isn't sitting well with some Republicans on Capitol Hill who worry that Acorn could skew results. There's a lot at stake since the census is used to dole out money to states and localities and to allocating seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the panel that oversees the Census Bureau, is demanding that the bureau explain how the partnership with Acorn fits its stated mission of selecting partners that will not "distract from the Census Bureau's mission."

Several other conservatives would like to see the Census Bureau sever its ties to Acorn altogether. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) said in an interview that he plans to introduce a bill that would require mail carriers to count the population as a way of keeping Acorn out of the process.

Stephen Buckner, a Census Bureau spokesman, said the partners program is voluntary and unpaid, and that Acorn employees won't be paid to knock on doors and enumerate as part of that organization, although it is impossible to know if the federal government would ultimately hire someone associated Acorn.

Census Bureau officials said Acorn is one of 40,000 participants in its partners program. Other partners include Target Corp., Goodwill Industries and Telemundo, the Spanish-language TV network. The partnerships, Mr. Buckner said, are meant to promote the count and boost the number of responses among traditionally hard-to-count populations. Mr. Buckner said Acorn represents some hard-to-count communities.

Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said earlier this month that she wouldn't answer certain questions on the 2010 Census form partially because of concerns about Acorn. A spokeswoman for Ms. Bachmann didn't make her available for comment.

Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) tried unsuccessfully to attach an amendment to a must-pass appropriations bill to forbid any Acorn involvement in the 2010 Census. The outspoken Mr. King is perhaps the most vocal critic of the organization, introducing a host of bills that would limit Acorn's affairs in federal governance.

As for allegations of voter registration fraud -- some Acorn employees were accused of signing up voters using names like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys -- Acorn spokesman Scott Levenson said his organization has cooperated fully with authorities, and promptly dismissed people accused of with wrongdoing.

At the time, many of the potentially faulty registrations were flagged to election officials as a result of the group's own internal controls.

That hasn't dispelled the distrust. "There is a trust issue when you mention Acorn and the census together, regardless of what they're doing. It casts doubt on the accuracy that would come out" of the headcount, said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R., Ga.).

The Census Bureau remains without a director, and as a result, it has been difficult for the bureau to put forward a unified public front on a host of issues, including public assurances that Acorn won't be intricately involved in the count. At this time, the Census' director would likely be traveling around the country discussing the count.

Republicans have been blocking the confirmation vote on President Barack Obama's choice to head the bureau, Robert Groves. There were initial concerns about Dr. Groves in part because he is an expert in statistical sampling and conservatives say the Constitution bars sampling for the decennial count. The Obama administration and Dr. Groves assured Congress sampling wouldn't be used. Republicans have declined to comment on why the nomination has been held up.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins on Wednesday called for Dr. Groves' immediate confirmation.

Write to Jake Sherman at [email protected]
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