WASHINGTON – Republican officials are furious about a new flier being distributed in African-American neighborhoods in St. Louis, Mo., that suggests Republicans would try to attack minority voters to prevent them from going to the polls.
The fliers, being distributed by America Coming Together (search), a group that has raised at least $86 million to back Democratic candidates, doesn't directly accuse Republicans of violence, but it does show a 1960s photograph of a firefighter hosing a black man.
"This is what they used to do to keep us from voting," the flier reads.
The handout also accuses Republicans of conspiring to suppress the black vote through intimidation and such tactics as putting "phony cops at polling places — but only in African-American neighborhoods."
"They make African-American voters stand in line for hours, then turn them away from the polls," the flier reads. "Now [U.S. Attorney General] John Ashcroft (search) is trying to prevent African-Americans from registering to vote at all."
Republican officials say the implication of the ad is both clear and ugly.
"This kind of false advertising aimed at African-Americans is clearly an attempt to intimidate and mislead voters," said Paul Sloca, a spokesman for the state GOP.
Sara Howard, ACT's Missouri spokeswoman, on Sunday defended the handouts as part of a voter-education effort. She said Republican concerns may stem from reports of increased voter registration among minorities.
"The Republican Party knows that generally when African-Americans vote in large numbers, Republicans lose," she said. "They will do everything in their power to try and prevent that from happening."
Access to the polls is the big question being generated by Democrats this year, and in such a close presidential race, getting voters to the polls in support of President Bush (search) or Sen. John Kerry (search) will make all the difference.
Last week, Republicans complained that Democrats were instructing party loyalists to make up charges of voter intimidation (search). They based their complaint on election manuals that urge party workers to raise the specter of Republican voter intimidation even when none exists.
"If there are any signs of present or expected intimidation activity, in advance of Election Day, launch a press program ... If no signs of intimidation tactics have emerged yet, launch a 'pre-emptive' strike," reads the Democratic National Committee (search) manual.
That "strike," according to the manual, would include issuing a press release. It also suggests that party workers "prime minority leadership to discuss the issue" and "place stories expressing concerns about potential intimidation in the local media."
Republicans call the manual's instructions a nasty trick meant to create fear and animosity among minority populations. They say Bush has been trying to appeal to minority voters, not suppress their votes, and that the DNC manual means that campaign workers could hurl baseless charges in the final days of this hard-fought campaign.
"'Allege voter intimidation even where none exists' is essentially what it says," said Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee (search). "That is what they do. They are engaged in the politics of fear and so this is part of their campaign based on completely manufactured, made-up charges."
The Kerry campaign approved the election manuals, and Democrats say they are doing nothing wrong.
"The bottom line on this is that it's absolutely appropriate for Democrats to warn their voters, and all voters, about what the Republicans are doing," said DNC senior adviser Jenny Backus.
Backus said allegations of Democratic voter registration forms being destroyed in Nevada, and what she called attempts to discourage voting in Ohio, made voter intimidation a legitimate issue.
"We're going to tell people that Republicans might stop your vote, but we're also, more importantly, telling people you have to come to vote," Backus said.
Republicans said they welcomed investigations into all charges of election wrong-doing.
Early Voting in 30 States
Millions of Americans have registered for the first time for this election, and as of Monday, early voting had already begun in 28 states.
Florida began early voting on Monday, as did Texas, Colorado and Arkansas. Other states already voting included Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, Oregon, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Michigan. In all, 30 states allow for early voting.
Within an hour, a Democratic state legislator in Florida reported getting an incomplete absentee ballot in Palm Beach County, and the touch-screen voting-machine system crashed in Orange County. That paralyzed voting in Orlando and its immediate suburbs.
Florida had experienced glitches in computer databases and touch-screen voting machines during tests of its electronic balloting system.
Broward County Deputy Supervisor of Elections Gisela Salas confirmed to FOX News that nine out of 14 early-voting sites in Broward County were experiencing problems with the voter database used to verify voter registration and prevent people from voting in multiple locations.
Instead of relying on the database, poll workers were "using telephones" to verify voter eligibility. Salas said the database problem had delayed voters by more than an hour in some locations.
Many people may be surprised to learn that just because they are registered, they are not guaranteed a right to vote come Election Day.
"If you don't have proper identification, if you're not properly registered, perhaps within that county, if you've been moving around, you cannot vote on the spot. You'll be turned away on the spot," election attorney Kenneth Gross (search) told FOX News.
Meanwhile with standards of fairness in the counting of ballots being questioned, Democrats and Republicans have lawyers ready to fight it out.
"We are prepared to do what we have to do to make sure that everybody who wants to cast a vote gets that opportunity and everybody who casts a vote has that vote counted," said Eric Holder of the DNC Election Task Force.
Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell (search) said that in his state "your vote counts, we, in fact, will make sure that every vote that is legally cast is counted."
But Blackwell was fighting to determine which ballots are legally cast. Thanks to a federal court order, voters can now cast a ballot at any polling place in their home counties through a provisional ballot. The ruling overturned an Ohio state law designed to limit voter fraud by requiring voters report to their proper precinct.
"One federal judge has tried to legislate from the bench. He has served up a recipe for chaos. He has turned Ohio election law on its head," Blackwell said, adding that voters could now cast more than one ballot.
Democrats said the decision merely ensured easier access to the polls. But Blackwell may have found some support. On Monday, Florida's Supreme Court ruled unanimously that people who cast a provisional ballot at the wrong precinct weren't entitled to have their votes counted.
FOX News' Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.