MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block. Today in Ohio, Barack Obama was asked about charges of voter fraud leveled at an anti-poverty group called ACORN. Republicans have been attacking the group's voter registration efforts. Those efforts have been marred by thousands of phony registrations, among more than a million submitted by the group. But as NPR's Pam Fessler reports, the intensity of the attacks has raised questions about Republican motives.
PAM FESSLER: For weeks, the Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign have been criticizing ACORN. Republicans say the group's part of an effort to steal votes and possibly throw the outcome of the election into doubt. Former Missouri Senator John Danforth co-chairs what the McCain campaign calls its honest and open election committee. Danforth says whoever loses November fourth could feel cheated and want to challenge the results in court.
Mr. JOHN DANFORTH (Co-Chairman, Honest and Open Election Committee; Former Republican Senator): If there are a number of states where the election is close, and there have been many, many people registered by this organization, ACORN, and where there are numerous cases of fraudulent registration, then the contest could go on for a very long time.
FESSLER: Rick Hasen is an election law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Professor RICK HASEN (Loyola Law School): I think this is just part of a kind of long-term Republican strategy to play up allegations of voter fraud as a kind of insurance policy in case there's a very close election.
FESSLER: He notes that there is little evidence that voter registration fraud translates into fraud at the polls, but he says that might be beside the point.
Professor HASEN: The allegations alone certainly wouldn't be a basis for overturning an election, but I think they prepare the public for an aggressive kind of litigation strategy.
FESSLER: And indeed the pressure is mounting. John McCain himself has called for an investigation into ACORN's voter registration program, and Nevada authorities last week raided ACORN's Las Vegas office after the group submitted registrations for the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys. ACORN officials defend their efforts. They say they're the ones pointing out problem registrations submitted by their canvassers who they hire by the hour. And they say they're required by law to turn in every form they collect, even if it's signed by Donald Duck. ACORN spokesman Brian Kettering admits the registration drives are far from perfect.
Mr. BRIAN KETTERING (Spokesperson, ACORN): But there is absolutely no doubt in our mind that the attention being paid by the right, at this time, is tremendously disproportionate to the problem and is distracting from a litany of other issues.
FESSLER: He and other voter advocates says the Republican attacks are all the more striking because allegations of widespread voter fraud have been discredited repeatedly, most recently in a report by the Justice Department's inspector general on the firings of U.S. attorneys accused of failing to pursue voter fraud cases. The report found instead that such cases were generally dropped for lack of evidence. Republicans deny they're just trying to lay the groundwork for a legal challenge. They say registration fraud is a serious threat. Former New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman co-chairs the McCain election committee with Danforth.
Mr. WARREN RUDMAN (Co-Chairman, Honest and Open Election Committee; Former Republican Senator): It very well could result in unqualified people voting. It could also result in people voting more than once. And most importantly, because of the clog of paperwork of some of these registrations, it could deny election officials the time they need to get their registration lists in order.
FESSLER: And he said that might block legitimate voters from casting ballots. He and Danforth say they'd like to work with the Obama campaign to monitor polls on Election Day for irregularities, but campaign officials say they'd prefer Republicans clean up their own act. They say Republicans are the ones trying to prevent legitimate voters from going to the polls by scaring them. They point to an incident last week in Greene County, Ohio, where a sheriff sought the records of 300 people who had registered and voted early because he said he was worried about possible fraud. Democrats called it a fishing expedition directed at newly registered college students. The sheriff later dropped his request. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.