WASHINGTON – It's not even Election Day and there are several lawsuits already out there in the battleground state of Ohio, which could impact the voting eligibility of tens of thousands of Ohioans.
The most controversial issue is whether poll watchers (search) from both political parties should be permitted to challenge the eligibility of voters on Tuesday — something poll watchers have been permitted to do for 50 years under state law.
But Democrats have filed two suits — one in Akron and one in Cincinnati — to keep poll watchers at bay.
Democrats argue that voters who are disqualified by poll watchers don't have adequate time to appeal their eligibility while at the ballot box and say Republicans intend to mount Election Day challenges to suppress the minority vote in Democratic precincts.
"This is an underhanded attempt by the Kerry campaign to inject race into this election," said Greg Hartmann of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Hamilton County, Ohio. "We are following Ohio law and putting poll watchers in place to make sure Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck don't vote in this election."
But Mark Griffin, a Democratic coordinator in Cuyahoga County (search), said: "If we didn't think the Republicans were trying to stop people from voting, we probably wouldn't have our designated challengers there, either."
Ohio Republicans argue their first choice would have been to address the eligibility of disputed voters before Election Day in hearings before local election boards statewide.
One place where voter legitimacy has cropped up is in the Democratic stronghold of Cuyahoga County, where election officials have been scrutinizing 17,700 newly registered voters whose legitimacy have been challenged by the Republican Party.
The Board of Elections sent out a mailing to the new registrants and a high percentage — much higher than normal — came back in the return mail.
The Cuyahoga challenge was the largest filed by the Ohio GOP, which has contested the voting rights of a total of 35,000 new registrants with mail returned as undeliverable. But these are not the only votes disputed.
Republicans say their goal is to eliminate Election Day fraud. Democrats argue it's a campaign of intimidation, designed to suppress the minority vote in Democratic precincts.
"The motivation is to scare people from going to the polls, to try and suppress the vote in Cleveland," Griffin said.
But Hillary Taylor of the Ohio Republican Party said: "Everyone is going to benefit from this. It's a means of making sure the system is functioning properly."
A federal district judge ruled Friday morning that the pre-election hearings could not take place. Judge Susan Dlott said it would have been unfair and impossible to require voters to show up for hearings before the election to clear up the status of their voting eligibility.
Ohio law says any hearings to challenge a voter must take place no later than two days before Election Day.
Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell (search) issued a statement saying in light of recent litigations, "a full airing of these issues" likely can't be completed before Nov. 2.
"Therefore, I have instructed the attorney general to offer the following recommendation to the federal courts in Hamilton and Summit counties for resolution of these matters now: All challengers of all parties shall be excluded from polling places throughout the state," Blackwell said. "Following the election, I will institute litigation bringing together all parties to resolve the statutory and constitutional issues so they may be fully litigated and determined once and for all."
— FOX News' Jeff Goldblatt contributed to this report.
Broward County: Ground Zero
Broward County is once again at the center of an election mess.
Top election officials couldn't explain the disappearance of 58,000 absentee ballots in that Florida county. But they said voters are being contacted and new ballots will be made available.
"In Broward County, every vote will be counted and I'm proud of the staff and the community is working together to achieve this goal," said Brenda Snipes, Broward County elections supervisor. "I believe we are on top of this situation."
In a county that's a Democratic stronghold with one million registered voters, officials said glitches are common but there was no crime. Workers at Broward's elections office prepared 1,000 absentee ballots for overnight shipment to Floridians in other states, and expected to send up to 14,000 ballots by Friday to residents who requested them weeks ago.
Snipes said her office has sent out some 128,000 absentee ballots this year, that 72,000 completed ballots have already been returned, and 40,000 more are expected by Tuesday.
"Broward County is a county that the Democrats are counting on very heavily, and when you have 50,000 absentee ballots in a heavily democratic county that just appear to disappear, that's obviously a serious problem," said David Boies, Al Gore's 2000 campaign attorney.
That's not Florida's only problem right now. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which, according to its Web site, is the nation's largest community organization of low and moderate-income families, has been accused of possibly having a criminal voter registration drive.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Republican National Committee complained of nasty tactics: vandalism of Bush-Cheney headquarters, intimidation of early-voting Republicans and potentially fraudulent voter registration drives.
"No legitimate voter should be disenfranchised in this election by having his or her right to vote denied and certainly shouldn't have his or her rightful vote cancelled out by a fraudulent vote," said RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie.
Gillespie said he was "disconcerted" by claims that supporters of John Kerry are clogging early voting locations and attempting to dissuade backers of President Bush from voting.
"Some folks have been intimidated to the point where they turned away from the lines," Gillespie alleged.
Democrats dismissed Gillespie's accusation and said Republicans are trying to keep Tuesday's turnout low. They pointed to a series of announcements in recent weeks by the RNC, calling them "empty fraud allegations" designed to suppress voting.
"Yet again, we're hearing that the Republican Party is crying fraud," Kerry campaign spokeswoman Christine Anderson said. "This is a very clear strategy on their part to lay the groundwork for Election Day challenges. We have clearly stated that we do not plan to challenge voters on Election Day, and that's a promise they simply can't make."
Republicans told the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Thursday that they believe 925 convicted felons who lost their voting rights have either already voted or have requested absentee ballots.
"We have provided information to the various supervisors of elections that we have of folks who are registered to vote and should not vote," former state Republican chairman Al Cardenas said.
GOP officials in Duval County acknowledged the existence of a list with names of more than 2,000 voters whose registration forms raised questions, but denied the list will lead to challenges. Republican adviser Mindy Tucker Fletcher said the list is of addresses where the GOP sent mail, only to have it returned undeliverable.
Duval elections supervisor Bill Scheu said Thursday that if challenges occur, "we are going to have a procedure that is going to resolve them lawfully, accurately and fairly."
In Palm Beach County, meanwhile, hundreds of members of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans say they haven't received their absentee ballots. Other large Florida counties, such as Miami-Dade and Pinellas, report no such trouble.
— Fox News' Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bogus Registrations in Nevada?
An agency looking into possible voter registration fraud in Nevada found forged documents, but no evidence of an organized effort to turn in bogus registrations.
In a report Thursday to Secretary of State Dean Heller, the state Investigations Division said some people registering voters "were forging documents with fictitious names and addresses for personal gain."
Many of the people hired by special interest groups to register voters were being paid based on the number of names they turned in, and "it appears that many of these organizations have become victims of their own employees obtaining money under false pretenses," said Jerry Hafen, deputy chief of the division.
But Hafen said investigators found "no evidence of an organized or concerted effort which would influence or impact the result of the elections."
Because of Nevada's battleground status, political groups including both state parties paid people by the hour to register voters, a common practice. However, some groups also paid for each registration form filed, which is against both state and federal law.
—The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Scene in the States
Many states are facing legal challenges over possible voting problems Nov. 2. A look at some of the developments Thursday:
— Republican poll watchers filed a complaint claiming election officials in the Democratic stronghold of Pueblo County failed to require early voters to produce identification.
— The machines that Boulder County uses to count votes bogged down in a recent test, choking on improperly marked ballots and prompting a three-day review to determine the final result.
A state appeals court ruled that Florida acted properly when it adopted a rule for manual recounts in 15 counties that use touch-screen voting machines.
Nearly 100 Hispanic voters were summoned to a Georgia courthouse to defend their right to vote, based on a complaint that an Atkinson County board ultimately threw out. Three men filed the complaint against 78 percent of the rural county's Hispanics, alleging that a county commissioner had attempted to register non-U.S. citizens to vote.
The attorney general said election officials will not count ballots cast in the wrong precincts on election night, but will set them aside in the event of a lawsuit seeking to determine their legality.
A former Cincinnati City Council member and her husband sued to stop GOP representatives who plan to challenge voters about their identity and voting qualifications in Hamilton County.
The Justice Department will send out three times as many poll watchers on Election Day than in 2000. The watchers will be looking for difficulties with absentee ballots and the handling of ballots cast in the wrong precinct.
— The superintendent of Milwaukee schools halted a get-out-the-vote program involving students after complaints were raised about its link to a pro-Kerry organization.
— Milwaukee's election commission threw out a complaint alleging that more than 5,600 addresses on the city's voter rolls may not exist, saying Republicans had not proven the registrations were invalid. GOP officials said they visited 37 of the addresses and took pictures showing vacant lots, a gyro stand and a park. Democrats said typographical errors and old registrations could have accounted for the discrepancies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.