- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

Two federal judges yesterday blocked the posting of political challengers at polling precincts throughout Ohio’s 88 counties in today’s presidential election, but Republicans and Democrats continued preparations to send an army of poll watchers into the field.

Meanwhile, in Florida, Democrats yesterday accused Republicans of preparing to challenge the eligibility of black voters, while dozens of lawyers hired by both parties prepared for potential litigation surrounding the election.

Florida Democrats also accused Republicans of planning to use Creole speakers at the polling precincts as “friendly helpers” to encourage Haitian voters to back President Bush — an accusation denied by the Republican Party, which said Democrats had lined up the Creole speakers to urge votes for Sen. John Kerry.

In Ohio, Republicans have assigned hundreds of challengers to look out for voter fraud, while Democrats vowed yesterday to watch the Republican challengers, whom they accused of being ready to intimidate minority voters.

Bob Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, says the state is key to “the most important presidential election in our lifetime” and that Ohio has been the target of “widespread, systematic voter registration fraud this election year involving groups working on behalf of the Democratic Party.”

Mr. Bennett said Ohio’s voter rolls contain more than 122,000 apparent duplicates, that at least four counties have higher voter registration totals this election year than voting-age population, and 10 counties have reported voter registration fraud cases to local authorities.

“These ongoing investigations exclusively involve Democratic Party front groups that were created to bypass campaign-finance limits,” he said. “The Democrats outsourced their voter registration efforts to these groups, which, in turn, engaged in illegal tactics that have produced widespread, systematic fraud.”

The anticipated clash, which may have to be decided in a federal appeals court, is expected to spread to other battleground states.

Democrats yesterday warned that poll watchers in other swing states who prove too aggressive face legal sanctions if they intimidate minority voters.

“When we have Americans of every background fighting to spread freedom around the world, it is un-American to harass or intimidate people who are exercising those freedoms here at home,” said Rep. Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania Democrat. “If we need personal legal liability to drive that point home, we will have it.”

Mr. Fattah has assembled a multistate coalition of lawyers, known as the Voter Protection Network, who are set to file lawsuits individually on behalf of voters who say poll watchers harassed, intimidated or interfered while they were trying to cast a ballot.

U.S. District Judge Susan Diott in Cincinnati said the application of Ohio’s statute allowing challengers at polling places was unconstitutional, while U.S. District Judge John Adams in Akron said poll workers already were in place to determine the eligibility of voters.

Judge Adams said in his ruling that persons named as challengers cannot be at the polls for the sole purpose of challenging voters’ qualifications.

Judge Diott, appointed in 1995 by President Clinton, said there was no evidence to support accusations by Republicans that “the presence of additional challengers would serve Ohio’s interest in preventing voter fraud better than would the system of election judges.”

Her ruling came in a lawsuit filed by a black couple in Cincinnati who said Republicans planned to deploy challengers to largely black precincts in Hamilton County, Ohio, to intimidate and block black voters. The lawsuit sought an emergency restraining order barring partisan challengers from polling stations in all counties in Ohio.

Mark Weaver, chief counsel for the Ohio Republican Party, said the party would ask the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to overturn the decisions.

But Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell’s office sent a memo to county election boards yesterday advising them to prohibit all challengers from Ohio’s polling places.

In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, officials rejected a request by Republicans that uniformed police officers be dispatched to polling precincts today to ensure a peaceful voting process. County officials said the presence of police officers at the polls could intimidate some voters.

Also in Florida, a sheriff’s deputy in Miami punched and arrested a freelance journalist for taking pictures of people waiting in line to cast early ballots in West Palm Beach. A spokesman for the Miami-Dade Sheriff’s Department said the deputy had been enforcing a county rule prohibiting reporters from interviewing or photographing voters outside the polls.

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