Florida Recruits Election Monitors

Civil rights leaders and liberal groups are organizing Florida residents to monitor polling places in the upcoming election for fraud and improper conduct.

The strategy, called "election protection," will use citizens, lawyers and activists to monitor election workers and direct voters who are turned away from the polls to a legal hot line.

Volunteers at precincts with a history of problems will inform voters of their rights and offer assistance, the organizers said. They also plan voter education drives before the Nov. 5 election.

The nonpartisan campaign was devised after the 2000 election by the liberal People for the American Way Foundation, which has allotted $750,000 in seed money for Florida and a total of $3 million for the 12 states involved, said Ralph Neas, the foundation's president. Also providing funds are the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union, he said.

The strategy is partially in response to the Bush administration's decision not to have the Justice Department pursue further legal action in Florida's 2000 election. In the bitterly disputed count, President Bush won the state by 537 votes.

"We can't wait for Justice to do anything for us," Earl O'Neal, a political action specialist with the AFL-CIO, said at a meeting in Jacksonville. "We have to educate people on the election laws in this country."

O'Neal was among the civil rights leaders who advised more than 450 Jacksonville residents last week on how to protect their vote.