AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t you take them on one by one?BERTHA LEWIS: And that’s exactly what they are: allegations and accusations. And just because Miss Mitchell and her organization says it’s true doesn’t make it true. She should deal with facts and not lies and allegations. And she is right, we—ACORN has been attacked over and over and over again, in 2004, 2006, Mac Stuart v. ACORN in Florida, again, where we were accused of paying people by the card and encouraging illegal registrations. That case was actually shown that ACORN was totally exonerated from all of the allegations. And again, Miss Mitchell and her—her compatriots, Republicans, took this man’s case on.
BERTHA LEWIS: And Miss Mitchell knows that she needs to stop making allegations. If, in fact, we were famous, as she says, and so notorious, then I think election officials ought to beef up their operations and assist us in stopping any potential fraud.
AMY GOODMAN: Cleta Mitchell, I have a question for you. I was listening to the Missouri governor, Blunt, and the McCain campaign manager, Rick Davis, on a conference call talking about ACORN and talking about the fact that if there are false names, voter registration fraud clearly means voter fraud. But when you have, for example, Mickey Mouse written, Mickey Mouse is not going to show up at the polls, and you have ACORN flagging the Mickey Mouse card—they’re not allowed to throw it out; they have to hand it in—how—although that is wrong on the voter registration card, how is that voter fraud?CLETA MITCHELL: Well, you know, this is just the beginning. I mean, there’s a whole continuum that we aren’t even talking about, because the very same people who are bringing us these fraudulent registrations are the very identical people who object vociferously to voters having to produce an identification at the polls to demonstrate that they are indeed a real person living at a real address. These are the same people who oppose that. So what you have is a process that starts with fraudulent voter registrations, and then you have all of these same people, these activists on the left, your audience primarily, I’m sure, who object to the idea that a person should have to show identification of some kind when they show up to vote.
AMY GOODMAN: Bertha Lewis?
CLETA MITCHELL: Because they could create multiple names.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s have her respond.
BERTHA LEWIS: First of all, she’s absolutely right: people do have to present identification. And again, historically, the folks that we’ve registered are low- and moderate-income people, majority people of color, and over half of them are under thirty. Historically, these voters have been blocked. Rolls have been purged, which we are very concerned about. And so, we want to make sure that people that are registered actually are allowed to vote. So, again, let me just say—
AMY GOODMAN: What about that issue of voter ID, which has become a big issue around the country?
BERTHA LEWIS: Well, it is—it is a big issue.
AMY GOODMAN: And why groups feel that people shouldn’t have to present, for example, a driver’s license?
BERTHA LEWIS: Because one of the things that has happened, historically, from right after the Civil War, when blacks were thrust into the electorate, it used to be the Democrats that put up all kinds of barriers to people voting when they got to the polls. Now it seems to be the modus operandi of Republicans, who want to challenge immigrants, who want to challenge brand new voters.
CLETA MITCHELL: Illegals. Illegals. Illegals.
BERTHA LEWIS: But again, what we want to be able to do is to make sure that citizens that are eligible to vote and are registered are allowed to vote, not purged from the rolls and not subjected to extreme measures in order to participate in democracy. And right now, in many states, and especially in these battleground states that we’re talking about, people must present identification.
AMY GOODMAN: Cleta Mitchell, how many of these false voter registration cards have you counted? And how many of them were not flagged by ACORN?CLETA MITCHELL: Well, that is an impossible question to answer. I don’t count voter registrations. That’s not what I do. What I do is I work with organizations who believe very strongly that everyone who is eligible to vote should be registered and should vote, and their vote should be counted and not diluted by people who are fictitious, non-eligible. There is this whole effort—yes, I mean, you heard just a little piece of it from Miss Lewis just a second ago. The problem is, these voter registration rolls are filled with fictitious names and erroneous addresses and people who don’t exist. And then, Ms. Lewis and ACORN do not want to have those people have to present identification at the polls to show I really am a real person. They don’t want the polls to be—the rolls to be cleaned up, to make certain that people who are on the rolls really are eligible to vote. I mean, it is an overwhelming burden on local election administration officials.
The civil rights groups, ACORN, the ACLU, they object to every—every single safeguard that has been put in place over the past decades to try and ensure the integrity of our election process. And it starts with faulty, fraudulent voter registrations, and it goes on a continuum from there. And they oppose everything to try to make sure that the election process is open, fair and honest.
AMY GOODMAN: Bertha Lewis?
BERTHA LEWIS: Again, Miss Mitchell can say what she wants; it doesn’t make it fact. We do agree that we want it open.
CLETA MITCHELL: It is factual. We can support the facts.
BERTHA LEWIS: She has not presented any facts. We do want it open. We do want people to be able to participate. And I hope that Ms. Mitchell—
CLETA MITCHELL: So do we.
BERTHA LEWIS: —and her Republican colleagues—
CLETA MITCHELL: So do I.
BERTHA LEWIS: —would join ACORN and other civil rights organizations in making sure that the local elected officials have the resources and the manpower—
CLETA MITCHELL: Mm-hmm.
BERTHA LEWIS: —and their regulations to be able to assist organizations and individuals, like ACORN, to actually register votes. We want those rolls clean. We want those rolls to be accurate.
CLETA MITCHELL: So do we.
BERTHA LEWIS: And we don’t want people thrown off—
CLETA MITCHELL: So do we.
BERTHA LEWIS: —or purged. So, join us in making sure that every person that’s eligible to register is registered, and if they’re registered, that they vote.
CLETA MITCHELL: We agree with that. But what we don’t believe in is allowing these rolls to be swelled, so that you have in some jurisdictions more people on the voter rolls than there are eligible citizens in that jurisdiction to vote. That’s a big problem.
BERTHA LEWIS: Let’s make sure that the local governments take care of that, because they’re getting taxpayer dollars.
CLETA MITCHELL: That’s right.
BERTHA LEWIS: I think that that’s their job. And I think we should assist them to make sure that they are able to maintain the right records. Don’t you agree, Ms. Mitchell?
CLETA MITCHELL: I agree. And I think they need to get rid of fictitious names that are on voter registration cards turned in by ACORN workers over the past several decades.
BERTHA LEWIS: I do, too. I agree.
CLETA MITCHELL: So, purging is a good thing. It cleans—clean my closet, get rid of things you don’t need, clean the voter rolls, get rid of names of people who don’t exist, who have moved away, who have not voted. That is not a violation of civil rights; that is a protection of the integrity of every American’s right to vote.
BERTHA LEWIS: And we want to protect those who are eligible.CLETA MITCHELL: If we could work together to do that, that’s important. I agree.
BERTHA LEWIS: Those who are eligible to vote—
CLETA MITCHELL: I agree.
BERTHA LEWIS: —and those who have registered, we want to make sure that they are protected and that they are not purged off the rolls. As Miss Mitchell knows—
CLETA MITCHELL: If they don’t—if they don’t vote after—
BERTHA LEWIS: —in Florida and across the country, that has happened, and that is a fact.
CLETA MITCHELL: That’s not true.
AMY GOODMAN: Cleta Mitchell, let me ask you a question about the former US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales. Ultimately, he was forced to quit over the scandal around the firing of US attorneys. Now, that scandal—
CLETA MITCHELL: A media-created scandal, I would say.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, that, in the firing of these attorneys, came down to these attorneys, Republican US attorneys around the country, saying that they were being pressured to investigate these—what they, you know, called voter fraud cases that turned out not to be voter fraud cases, like the US attorney of New Mexico, the Republican US attorney, David Iglesias, who said he was wrongfully fired because he failed to indict ACORN members for voter fraud. So this really has been going on for quite a long time. And ultimately, the casualty of this was the US Attorney General, because his own US attorneys around the country said that the voter fraud evidence was not there, that they couldn’t prosecute the cases that the Bush administration was pushing them to prosecute.
CLETA MITCHELL: Let me tell you a little-known fact that I think is all tied up in this, and frankly, I have—this is another thing I’ve testified to Congress about. I believe very strongly that this was a media-created frenzy of this whole idea of these US attorneys. I’ll be interested to see if a President Obama keeps all the Republican US attorneys and whether the media makes a big deal when he fires them all, as Janet Reno and Bill Clinton did when President Clinton took over and fired all the Bush US attorneys in 1992.
But let me just say this. The Justice Department has had apparently a longstanding policy of not investigating individual instances of voter fraud. That policy was changed in the last—at some point in the last two to three years to say, like any other criminal offense, if you don’t investigate individual instances, you may not uncover a scheme or a concerted pattern and practice of an intent to violate the law. And so, they changed the policy. ACORN, other civil rights groups have been furious at the Justice Department for changing that policy to say, we will investigate these individual instances of voter fraud, because that’s the only way we’re ever going to uncover any criminal scheme of voter fraud.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me just—let me just—
CLETA MITCHELL: And that policy has changed, and I believe very strongly that part of this effort to pressure was—had been a part of the effort to say there is no voter fraud, therefore anyone who investigates it must be a racist; that’s the only reason you could possibly be investigating it.
AMY GOODMAN: Just a clarification on the point you made whether—if Barack Obama became president, he would fire US attorneys.
CLETA MITCHELL: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: You were correct on Clinton firing the attorneys, as Bush did when he came in.
CLETA MITCHELL: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: The issue wasn’t when a new administration—
CLETA MITCHELL: Because they served—AMY GOODMAN: No, no, no. The issue wasn’t when a new administration comes in, whether they’re entitled to fire the attorneys; it’s all of these attorneys were fired mid-term, not when Bush first came in. These were all the Bush appointments that they fired in the next—after the next election, and they alleged it was because of their refusing to, though they investigated for years, prosecute these voter registration cases.
[Originally broadcast on Democracy Now! October 15, 2008]