Democrats file 9 suits in Florida

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Democrats in Florida already are pursuing nine election-related lawsuits, accusing state election officials of conspiring to disenfranchise minority voters.

Led by the Florida Democratic Party, the People for the American Way, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the AFL-CIO, the lawsuits target, among others, Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, President Bush’s brother.

The suits say Republican officials refused to count provisional ballots, improperly disqualified incomplete voter registrations, established overly restrictive rules to disproportionately hurt minority voters and actively sought to disenfranchise blacks.

Matt Miller, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign, said Republicans are “trying to scare people away from the polls.”

But Mrs. Hood’s spokesman, Alia Faraj, described the lawsuits as politically motivated, saying they were eroding public confidence in the election process by challenging “every single law we are following.”

One suit challenges a ruling by Mrs. Hood to throw out forms on which new voters had failed to check a box indicating whether they were U.S. citizens, and another argued that although only 17 percent of the voters in Broward County and 20 percent in Miami-Dade County were black, more than a third of the voter-registration forms that were determined to be incomplete and invalid in both counties involved black voters.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has successfully challenged a ruling on how counties with touch-screen voting should conduct manual recounts. The state had banned the recounts, but an administrative-law judge agreed with the ACLU challenge and tossed that rule in August.

Mr. Bush’s campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, yesterday predicted that Mr. Kerry would employ “fraud, intimidation and lawsuits” in an attempt to overturn a Bush victory on Tuesday. He said if Democrats lose at the ballot box, they would use lawyers “to try to shoehorn a victory.”

“What you’re seeing is an attempt, through lawsuits and through intimidation, by Democrats to convert their allies’ registration fraud into voter fraud on Election Day,” he said. “What you’re going to see is an attempt by them, regardless of what the outcome is, to say: ‘It’s unfair. We’re going to sue.’”

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Ed Gillespie said the lawsuits are part of a Democratic plan to “use lawyers and baseless allegations to skew the results in their favor.” He said the RNC thinks that “no legitimate voter should be disenfranchised, either by being denied a vote or by having an honest vote canceled out by a fraudulent vote.”

Mr. Gillespie said teams of Democratic lawyers will seek to change the rules in ways that would make it easier to engage in systematic voter fraud on Election Day.

“The American people should be confident that legitimate voters casting legitimate votes determine the outcome of this election,” he said.

Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Terry McAuliffe has accused Republicans of engaging in “systematic efforts” to disenfranchise voters, imposing unlawful identification requirements on voters, throwing eligible voters off the rolls and depriving voters of their right to cast a provisional ballot.

“Regardless of party or candidate, it is the civic and moral duty of both parties to encourage complete and full participation in the democratic process,” he said in a recent letter to Mr. Gillespie.

In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a Florida recount be halted after 36 days, giving the state’s 25 Electoral College votes to Mr. Bush, which put him in the White House. The high court, according to public statements by several justices, did not think the ruling would prompt a flood of lawsuits in future federal, state and local elections. But both major parties since have hired an army of lawyers to respond to potential legal challenges this year.

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