HARRISBURG -- Controversy erupted at the state Capitol today between the state Republican Party and a group of community organizers called ACORN over the group's efforts to register 140,000 new voters in Pennsylvania over the past 18 months.
State GOP Chairman Bob Gleason and former Republican state Supreme Court Justice Sandra Newman charged that ACORN has tried to "fraudulently'' register many voters so they can vote for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Nov. 4.
They claimed that ACORN has close ties to Mr. Obama from his days as a community organizer in Chicago and said he's helped the group get funding for get-out-the-vote efforts in the past.
ACORN officials Ali Kronley, Krista Holub and others strongly denied making any effort to register new voters by using fake names and addresses. Ms. Holub said critics of ACORN are using "voter suppression'' efforts to hold down the vote on Nov. 4 of poorer people and those "of color,'' including African Americans and Latinos.
"We believe everyone should have a say in elections, not just the wealthy and well-connected,'' said Olivia Dorsey, an ACORN organizer from Philadelphia. She said she's proud of her part in registering 140,000 new voters in Pennsylvania, part of the 1.3 million new voters ACORN has registered nationwide.
Mr. Gleason said he is filing a lawsuit today against the state Department of State and ACORN aimed at "ensuring a fair election.''
The suit is needed, added Ms. Newman, because "I have serious doubts that we can have a fair election'' because of "fraudulent'' voter registrations undertaken by ACORN.
She seeks, in the suit, to have a court order the Department of State to make sure its SURE voter registration computer system is up to date and functioning properly online, so that the validity of all new voter registrations can be promptly checked by county boards of elections.
Rebecca Halton, a state elections official, said that "to the best of my knowledge'' the SURE system is running properly for county elections officials to check registrations.
Ms. Newman said the GOP suit also seeks an order making sure that all county boards of elections ensure on Nov. 4 that every first-time voter provides reliable proof of identity before being allowed to vote. Ms. Halton said that is already happening.
The GOP suit also seeks an order that ACORN pay for "public service announcements to educate all first-time voters about the requirements to present identification in accordance with state and federal law.''
In Pennsylvania, there are 1.2 million more Democrats registered now than Republicans, which has GOP officials worried about John McCain's chances to carry Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes on Nov. 4.
Republican officials said they fear that "fraudulently'' registered voters could swing the election toward Mr. Obama.
The GOP lawsuit provoked a sharp retort from Chuck Ardo, press secretary to Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell. Mr. Ardo said the GOP is "embarking on a dangerous path by trying to undermine the public's confidence in the electoral system. This is a dangerous campaign tactic by Republicans.''
Ms. Holub said ACORN takes pains to identify any voter registration form that seems suspect before it is, as required by law, turned in to a county election bureau.
Mr. Ardo said, "Just because Mickey Mouse fills out a registration form doesn't mean he gets to vote.''