Gov. Charlie Crist said he doesn't believe false voter registrations are a serious problem in Florida. And the ACORN group said it is being set up.
BY MARC CAPUTO
TALLAHASSEE -- Breaking with the talking points of his fellow Republicans in Washington, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he does not think voter fraud and the vote-registration group ACORN are a major problem in the Sunshine State.
''I think that there's probably less [fraud] than is being discussed. As we're coming into the closing days of any campaign, there are some who enjoy chaos,'' Crist told reporters.
Crist made his comments as the Republican National Committee hosted a conference call with reporters to tie Democrat Barack Obama to suspicious voter-registration cards submitted by ACORN across the nation and in four Florida counties, including Broward.
In the Broward case, an unknown person tried to re-register a longtime voter named Susan S. Glenckman. Broward officials caught the error in August when it was brought to their attention by ACORN.
During the Wednesday Republican conference call, national party spokesman Danny Diaz focused more on a case in Orange County, where someone used an ACORN-stamped voter-registration card to sign up Mickey Mouse.
But Crist's Republican Secretary of State, Kurt Browning, said he doesn't think ACORN is committing systematic voter fraud. And Crist said that settles the matter because ''I have enormous confidence'' in Browning.
Like ACORN spokesmen, Browning says the false voter registration forms could be blamed on unethical canvassers or on citizens who themselves fill out fictitious voter cards.
REGISTERING VS. VOTING
Elections officials point out that while voter-registration fraud is relatively easy, vote fraud is far more difficult because a criminal would have to evade multiple layers of computer-system and identity checks. They also say the system is not overwhelmed with phony registrations, as Diaz suggested during the conference call.
ACORN's head Florida organizer, Brian Kettenring, went a step further, saying the group was being framed in the Mickey Mouse case -- though he wasn't sure who was behind it.
''We have a substantial reason to believe someone probably got one of our cards and submitted it to the elections office without us knowing,'' Kettenring said.
But Diaz, the national Republican spokesman, said Wednesday that there is no way ACORN is a victim, considering ''the volume'' of registration-fraud complaints and investigations in numerous states.
''When you sign the Dallas Cowboys in Nevada, Mickey Mouse in Florida, a 7-year-old girl in Connecticut,'' Diaz said, ``their argument that this is all some kind of a conspiracy is laughable on its face.''
Diaz, echoing previous statements from the party and John McCain's campaign, said Obama hasn't been honest about his links to ACORN.
Obama told reporters Tuesday that Republicans are engaging in distractions. He said his campaign has nothing to do with ACORN and that ACORN is probably the victim of lazy card gatherers or card signers who make up names or fraudulently fill out registration cards.
ACORN submits all registration cards -- even ones it knows are phony -- because it's illegal to destroy the cards in Florida, and Browning said the group should even turn in incomplete registration cards.
Kettenring said the group has quality-control checks to alert officials of suspicious cards. Although it flagged the Glenckman problem in Broward, ACORN never saw the Mickey Mouse card, Kettenring said.
A housing, poverty and wage advocacy group, ACORN stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. It has signed up more than 150,000 new Florida voters out of the 1.3 million it registered in the past two years nationwide.
Echoing Browning and other county elections supervisors, Mary Cooney, a spokeswoman for Broward County Election Supervisor Brenda Snipes, said the office had a good working relationship with ACORN.
But Cooney said the office began tracking ACORN registrations after noticing about 10 percent of the 16,000 registration cards it submitted were returned by the post office as undeliverable.
Cooney said the returned mail wasn't suspicious, but it was worthy of note. Cooney said that, if the office had suspected real fraud, it would have turned the matter over to the state attorney's office. But it didn't.
Obama had downplayed his ties to ACORN on his ''fight the smears'' website, saying that his most extensive work with ACORN was when he represented the group along with the U.S. Justice Department in a lawsuit. Turns out, he also trained some ACORN community organizers at a seminar, so Obama's website was changed to reflect that he was never ''hired'' as a trainer.
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis made much of that in a conference call last week, urging reporters to ask Obama: ``What were you teaching them? Were you teaching them how to evade the law?''
Davis also said anyone who believes ACORN isn't up to something bad is ``naive.''
But the day before, when Crist was asked whether he had any suspicions or evidence that ACORN was up to anything illegal or unethical, he gave a quick and brief reply: ``No.''