As Democrats nationwide try to make the climb to a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate by pursuing recounts, an outspoken ACORN ally presides over the tallying of votes in the still-unresolved Minnesota Senate race.
The fact that Mark Ritchie, a Democrat and former community organizer, largely controls the electoral process in the Land of 10,000 Lakes may be important.
That's because at press time incumbent Republican Norm Coleman led Democrat Al Franken by just 341 votes and the Democrats controlled 57 seats in the Senate, compared to the Republicans' 40. The Senate races in Alaska and Georgia also have yet to be resolved, though in both the Republicans are leading and are expected to win in the end.
The Minnesota seat is the only one that Democrats could try to steal. Every seat closer to 60 gives President-elect Barack Obama and Democratic lawmakers an opportunity to permanently alter America's political, economic, and cultural landscape.
Both Franken and Obama, by the way, were endorsed by ACORN Votes, ACORN's federal political action committee.
Minnesota's secretary of state isn't a Democrat by happenstance.
Ritchie, who defeated two-term incumbent Republican Mary Kiffmeyer in 2006, received an endorsement and financial assistance for his run from a below-the-radar non-federal "527" group called the Secretary of State Project. The entity can accept unlimited financial contributions and doesn't have to disclose them publicly until well after the election.
The founders of the Secretary of State Project, which claims to advance "election protection" but only backs Democrats, religiously believe that right-leaning secretaries of state helped the GOP steal the presidential elections in Florida in 2000 (Katherine Harris) and in Ohio in 2004 (Ken Blackwell).
The secretary of state candidates the group endorses sing the same familiar song about electoral integrity issues: Voter fraud is largely a myth, vote suppression is used widely by Republicans, cleansing the dead and fictional characters from voter rolls should be avoided until embarrassing media reports emerge, and anyone who demands that a voter produce photo identification before pulling the lever is a racist, democracy-hating Fascist.
The group was co-founded in July 2006 by James Rucker, formerly director of grassroots mobilization for MoveOn.org Political Action and Moveon.org Civic Action. "Any serious commitment to wrestling control of the country from the Republican Party must include removing their political operatives from deciding who can vote and whose votes will count," said another co-founder, Becky Bond, to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2006.
Its website claims, "A modest political investment in electing clean candidates to critical Secretary of State offices is an efficient way to protect the election." Indeed. Political observers know that a relatively small amount of money can help swing a little-watched race for a state office few people understand or care about.
The strategic targeting of the SoS Project yielded impressive results this year and in 2006.
Days ago, SoS Project-backed Democrats Linda McCulloch (Montana), Natalie Tennant (West Virginia), Robin Carnahan (Missouri), and Kate Brown (Oregon) won their races. Only Carnahan was an incumbent. The Center for Public Integrity reported two months ago that the group had thus far raised a mere $280,000 for the 2008 election cycle.
Talk about return on investment!
In 2006, along with Minnesota's Ritchie, SoS Project-endorsed Jennifer Brunner (Ohio), who last month defied federal law by refusing to take steps to verify 200,000 questionable voter registrations, trounced her opponent, 55% to 41%. Democrats supported by the group also won that year in New Mexico, Nevada, and Iowa. The group claims it spent about $500,000 in that election cycle.
In the election on Tuesday, Ritchie said his office "received no reports whatsoever of fraudulent voting occurring," but most news reports omitted the fact that a conservative watchdog group called Minnesota Majority repeatedly urged Ritchie to clean up the state's voter data. The group urged "a thorough review and verification of all voter registration records."
Minnesota Majority claimed last month that there were thousands of irregularities in voter lists, including 261,000 duplicative registrations and 63,000 voters listing an address that the post office reported was "non-deliverable."
Ritchie was dismissive.
"There is a new level of desperateness, a new level of intensity to the process that's saying, ‘This can't be right. There must be all these people illegally voting,'" Ritchie told Minnesota Public Radio Nov. 3. "It's to create a story to explain a political climate. It's to create a cloud over an election so people don't accept the outcome."
While running for office two years ago, Ritchie recited well-worn liberal talking points on the electoral process. "The only means we have of defending ourselves is the vote, and if you want to throw out or hold accountable leaders who are not doing what you want around [Hurricane] Katrina, or the Iraq war, the vote is your only mechanism. [...] When you begin to perceive that your vote is being manipulated, it's a sign of worry," he said.
So far in the Coleman versus Franken vote-tallying process Ritchie seems even-handed. He perhaps inadvertently likened the upcoming official recount to a funeral service that benefits the living because it forces them to accept the death of a loved one. "Recounts are for really the loser to understand and see and then believe that they in fact did not win the election and for their supporters to come to the same conclusion," he said.
Most media reports also leave out the fact that Ritchie has extensive ties to the controversial in-your-face direct action group, ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), whose employees have been implicated in electoral fraud time and time again.
In 2006, the Minnesota ACORN Political Action Committee endorsed Ritchie and donated to his campaign. According to the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, contributors to Ritchie's campaign included liberal philanthropists George Soros, Drummond Pike, and Deborah Rappaport, along with veteran community organizer Heather Booth, a Saul Alinsky disciple who co-founded the Midwest Academy, a radical ACORN clone. One article on Ritchie's 2006 campaign website brags about the fine work ACORN did in Florida to pass a constitutional amendment to raise that state's minimum wage.
It was revealed during a panel discussion at the Democratic Party's convention in Denver this summer that the Democracy Alliance, a financial clearinghouse created by Soros and insurance magnate Peter B. Lewis, approved the Secretary of State Project as a grantee. The Democracy Alliance aspires to create a permanent political infrastructure of nonprofits, think tanks, media outlets, leadership schools, and activist groups-a kind of "vast left-wing conspiracy" to compete with the conservative movement. It has brokered more than $100 million in grants to liberal nonprofits including ACORN. The aforementioned Pike and Rappaport, who gave money to Ritchie's campaign, are members of the Democracy Alliance.
According to IRS 8872 disclosure forms, the Secretary of State Project received donations from Democracy Alliance members including Soros, Rob Stein, Gail Furman, and Susie Tompkins Buell.
Ritchie said the recount won't get underway until the State Canvassing Board meets Nov. 18 to certify the U.S. Senate election results. Under state law, the five-member board will consist of Ritchie, two state district court judges he appoints to it, and two state supreme court justices.
As the politically astute Joseph Stalin once remarked, "The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything."