Published March 18, 2009
The U.S. Census is supposed to be free of politics, but one group with a history of voter fraud, ACORN, is participating in next year's count, raising concerns about the politicization of the decennial survey.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now signed on as a national partner with the U.S. Census Bureau in February 2009 to assist with the recruitment of the 1.4 million temporary workers needed to go door-to-door to count every person in the United States -- currently believed to be more than 306 million people.
A U.S. Census "sell sheet," an advertisement used to recruit national partners, says partnerships with groups like ACORN "play an important role in making the 2010 Census successful," including by "help[ing] recruit census workers."
The bureau is currently employing help from more than 250 national partners, including TARGET and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to assist in the hiring effort.
But ACORN's partnership with the 2010 Census is worrisome to lawmakers who say past allegations of fraud should raise concerns about the organization.
"It's a concern, especially when you look at all the different charges of voter fraud. And it's not just the lawmakers' concern. It should be the concern of every citizen in the country," Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland, R-Ga., vice ranking member of the subcommittee for the U.S. Census, told FOXNews.com. "We want an enumeration. We don't want to have any false numbers."
ACORN, which claims to be a non-partisan grassroots community organization of low- and moderate-income people, came under fire in 2007 when Washington State filed felony charges against several paid ACORN employees and supervisors for more than 1,700 fraudulent voter registrations. In March 2008, an ACORN worker in Pennsylvania was sentenced for making 29 phony voter registration forms. The group's activities were frequently questioned in the 2008 presidential election.
ACORN spokesman Scott Levenson told FOXNews.com that "ACORN as an organization has not been charged with any crime." He added that fears that the organization will unfairly influence the census are unfounded.
"It will be the Census Bureau that determines the role and scope of its 300 national partners. ACORN is committed to a fair and accurate count," Levenson said.
The census is an official count of the country's population mandated by the U.S. Constitution. It is used to determine distribution of taxpayer money through grants and appropriations and the apportionment of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Every U.S. household unit, including those occupied by non-citizens and illegal immigrants, must be counted.
Westmoreland and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a member of the House census subcommittee, said the panel has held hearings to make sure the penalties for census takers committing fraud are clearly defined.
"I feel fairly confident that the penalties for an individual manipulating the count are pretty severe," Chaffetz said. The penalty for any fraudulent activity can be up to five years in jail.
Westmoreland said he hopes the Census Bureau will maintain its measures to ensure an accurate report.
"I feel comfortable right now with the people at the census department that they're going to put forth their best effort to have a fair count," he said.
The U.S. Census Bureau has refuted any suggestions that ACORN or any other groups will fraudulently and unduly influence the results of the census.
"The Census (Bureau) is a nonpartisan, non-political agency and we're very dedicated to an accurate account," bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner told FOXNews.com. "We have a lot of quality controls in place to keep any kind of systemic error or fraudulent behavior to affect the counts."
Buckner said the bureau received an overwhelming number of qualified applicants -- more than 1 million -- for the 140,000 census taker jobs filled to complete the first phase of the effort. Each applicant, he said, must take a basic skills exam, which includes reading a map and entering data into a handheld computer. Applicants are also subject to an FBI background check, he said.
But Buckner acknowledged that it is difficult to track an applicant's political background.
"I have no way of tracking any of that information," he said. "If somebody comes in to a position with a political agenda and their work exhibits that, there are rules against that," he said.
Buckner stressed the need for organizations like ACORN to assist in the effort, saying that "any group that has a grassroots organization that can help get the word out that we have jobs" is helpful.
In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau had 140,000 partnerships from "national organizations to local and community organizations to elected officials," he said. "The list is as broad as the phone book."