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Fraud File: Poll Challengers OK'd

Republicans and Democrats went ahead with plans to dispatch thousands of lawyers to potential election trouble spots even as judges made 11th-hour changes to voting rules in Ohio, a state that could determine the presidency.

Republicans won an overnight victory when a federal appeals court ruled they can challenge voters' qualifications at the polls in Ohio. A lawyer for a black couple who sought to stop the practice said shortly after midnight he had already asked the Supreme Court (search) to block the circuit court ruling.

With the latest ruling coming just hours before the polls open, the effect of the last-minute appeal to the Supreme Court was not immediately clear.

Partisan lawyers will join thousands of outside lawyers and neutral poll watchers on Tuesday, concentrating on Ohio, Florida and a handful of other states where the race between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry (search) is extremely close.

With just hours to go before polls open, a federal judge had barred Republicans from challenging voters' qualifications inside polling stations in Ohio, saying a GOP plan to question up to 23,000 names would unfairly target minority voters. The Ohio challenges violate a decades-old national agreement between the political parties, U.S. District Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise (search) said.

Earlier Monday, another judge ruled against Republicans in a separate case involving the same list of potentially suspect voter names.

Both cases were appealed and Republican Party lawyer Mark Weaver said, "The law is clearly in our favor."

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati consolidated both of the lower court cases and ruled early Tuesday — just hours before polls open at 6:30 a.m. local time in Ohio — that the challengers could be present at the polls.

Republicans want to place challengers inside polling places because of concern that thousands of voters were fraudulently added to the state rolls this year. Challenges would take place on the spot, and a voter found ineligible would be turned away.

Democrats and civil rights organizations say Republicans are targeting minority voters in an attempt to reduce the number of ballots cast for Kerry and other Democrats.

"All of this activity is racial profiling," said NAACP Chairman Julian Bond. "None of it is aimed at white voters. It is all based on the racist presumption that racial minorities are cheaters."

The dispute is the latest in a series of legal face-offs over rules for casting and counting votes this year. The maneuvering began weeks ago and was most intense in Ohio and Florida, each with rich caches of Electoral College votes.

The dueling lawsuits sought to loosen or lift some voting restrictions, the position usually favored by Democrats, or to tighten or strictly enforce other procedures, the position usually taken by Republicans. Democrats plan to field 10,000 lawyers nationally on Tuesday, with the Republican total not far behind.

Republicans lost a federal court battle to challenge as many as 35,000 Ohio voters before the election, and then turned to a plan to station partisan challengers at the polls on Election Day.

No one knows how many voters could be affected if the GOP is allowed to challenge voters on the spot, but with the race in Ohio too close to call, anything that adds or subtracts even a few hundred votes from one column could make the difference. In Florida last time, the margin was 537 votes.

Foley, of Ohio State University, said state law has allowed partisan challengers at the polls at least since the 1950s. Several other states that are presidential battlegrounds this year also allow some kind of in-person voter challenges at the polls: Florida, Nevada, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Before being overturned on appeal, two federal judges in Ohio issued narrow rulings that would bar challenges statewide this year, without overturning the state law that allows such challenges generally. The Ohio rulings did not apply to other states, although any eventual Supreme Court statement on the matter would have national effect.

Debevoise's ruling arose from a separate challenge filed in New Jersey. Debevoise oversees consent decrees that ended court contests over racially tinged GOP ballot challenges in New Jersey. The agreements were signed by the national political parties in the 1980s, and have been used since to challenge Republican "ballot security" programs in several states.

Also Monday, The Associated Press and television networks sued Ohio's top election official, Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, over a recent order banning exit polling within 100 feet of a polling station. The media groups use exit polls, or voter questionnaires, to help explain who voted and why.

— The Associated Press

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Ohio Marked for Future Fighting

Mark Weaver, legal counsel of the Ohio Republican Party, said the state GOP was planning to file a temporary restraining order with the Marion County Court of Common Pleas, which is north of Columbus, to stop or try and enjoin certain parties from making misrepresenting phone calls to voters in several counties.

Named in the suit are the Ohio Democratic Party, the Marion County Democratic Party, the Greene County Democratic Party and the left-leaning group America Coming Together (search). Weaver said the suit alleges civil conspiracy, fraud and racketeering charges. The racketeering, or RICO, charge was levied because the GOP alleges certain illegal acts were carried out by more than one person.

Weaver said these groups have been placing dozens of phone calls in several counties, telling voters to go to the wrong polling places, and falsely saying they must bring utility bills and other pieces of information to the polls. He also said one person told the GOP that the origin of one of the phone calls came up on the caller ID, and the call was traced back to the Ohio Democratic Party.

Weaver said the counties where these calls have taken place are "rock rib" GOP counties. He said he's not sure a court will be able to take the appropriate action before Tuesday's vote, but "to know that this is happening and not do anything would have been an injustice."

Weaver acknowledged that dirty campaigning is typical at this time before the election, but suggested Democrats have reached a new low with these calls.

He also said calls were being placed to people trained by the GOP to be Election Day challengers. These people were told they no longer were needed on Election Day. Weaver characterized these phone calls as another dirty measure.

— FOX News' Jeff Goldblatt contributed to this report.

Compromise in Milwaukee

After battling over as many as 37,000 votes, the Wisconsin Republican Party and the city of Milwaukee have agreed that a list of 5,512 prospective voters with questionable addresses will be sent to poll workers to flag those people when they come to vote.

Those voters will then be asked to fill out a change of address card or registration form and show proof of residency in order to cast a ballot. Those who can not will have to take an oath, and their ballots will be marked as being challenged.

Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Rick Graber said the Sunday agreement will offer another layer of protection to assure that fraudulently cast votes will not be counted.

A spokesman for the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said the Democrats had not yet had a chance to see Sunday's agreement.

"Our bottom line is that everyone who is qualified to vote in the state of Wisconsin should be able to do so without harassment," spokesman George Twigg said.

— The Associated Press

New Voting Bloc — The Dead

An untold number of ballots from people who have died since casting them will be counted this year because of the haphazard and cumbersome process of enforcing laws in many states to weed out these votes.

With millions of voters taking advantage of new, in-person early voting in at least 30 states this year, it's even more likely that such "ghost" votes will be counted because, in most cases, those ballots are impossible to retrieve. Besides, it could be days or weeks after the election before local officials get word someone has died.

Earlier this month, in what would be her last conscious act, 90-year-old Trixie Porter gripped a pen in her weak, trembling hand, checked the candidates of her choice and scrawled a squiggled signature on her absentee ballot.

Within an hour, the petite woman who had been suffering from heart problems lay back in her hospital bed, closed her eyes and never woke up. Her ballot arrived at her local elections board two days later, Oct. 5 — the day she died.

"We commented that day that it probably won't count," said daughter Cheryl McConnell. "But she went to her grave not knowing any different. It counted with her."

The thousands of lawyers from both parties who will be descending on battleground states Tuesday looking for reasons to pick up a few votes could find the phenomenon of dead voters more than just an Election Day curiosity.

In Florida alone, more than 1.8 million people, many of them elderly and sick retirees, have cast absentee ballots or voted early in person in the past two weeks.

How many of those voters won't be alive on Election Day? Considering that an average of 455 voting-age people die in Florida every day, and that the 2000 presidential election was decided by a mere 537 votes, dead votes that slip through the cracks could become a meaningful bloc.

"There are lots of examples of elections being decided by one vote or 300 votes," said Tim Storey, a senior fellow with National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. "It's the classic policymaking dilemma when you're trying to embark on new methods like early voting."

The problem has arisen as an unintended consequence of laws meant to prevent a repeat of the 2000 presidential election debacle. Unlike traditional mail-in absentee ballots that are stored in labeled envelopes and can be pulled if someone dies, most of the new "in-person" early voting is being done on machines with no paper ballot to tell how those people voted.

So if a person in Florida casts an early ballot, then is run over by a truck right outside the polling place, there's no way to rescind the vote. But the vote of a Florida soldier who mails an absentee ballot from Iraq, then is killed in action, won't — or shouldn't — be counted.

— The Associated Press

Scene in the States

Many states are facing legal challenges over possible voting problems Tuesday. A look at some of the latest developments:

The Latest Reports

COLORADO

Officials in Boulder County warned that election results might not be available until Wednesday night, saying extra time may be necessary because of a large projected turnout and the use of paper ballots.

"We didn't pick the hare; we picked the tortoise, the slow and steady winning-the-race type of system," said Jim Burrus, a spokesman for the county, known as an enclave of liberal voters.

The county's vote-counting machines bogged down in a recent test, choking on improperly marked ballots.

FLORIDA

In Miami-Dade County, hundreds of people waited for hours Sunday to cast ballots during early voting. Many would-be voters saw the line, shook their heads and left.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service said it would deliver more than 8,000 absentee ballots that were dropped off Saturday at processing centers by elections officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties. For the ballots to count, they must be returned to county offices by Tuesday night. Officials said most were to be sent to local areas, but others were to be sent as far as Las Vegas and New Orleans — and chances were slim those could be returned in time to count.

About 150 absentee ballots returned to Palm Beach County officials were rejected Sunday because voters did not sign envelopes; 19 more were tossed because signatures did not match those on election records.

OREGON

Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to block thousands of young people's votes, following a request by GOP lawyers to review ballots cast by first-time voters in Oregon's most populous county.

In a letter issued Friday, attorneys for the Oregon Republican Party demanded that ballots cast by voters in Multnomah County who have not provided proof of identification be set aside and challenged if necessary.

Democrats challenged that request Sunday, saying it flies in the face of Oregon law, which does not require voters to show proof of identification when registering.

At stake are the votes of 207,053 first-time voters, of whom 73,226 are between the ages of 18 and 24. Nearly a third live in Multnomah County, which includes Portland, according to Secretary of State Bill Bradbury.

WISCONSIN

The state Republican Party questioned the validity of another 37,180 addresses of people registered to vote in Milwaukee. The party is demanding that city officials require identification from those voters at the polls. City Attorney Grant Langley described the GOP request as "outrageous." Last week, the party flagged more than 5,600 addresses as inaccurate, but Langley's office found hundreds of them to be correct.

Earlier Reports

ARIZONA

Oct. 30: The Secretary of State's office said that as many as 2,300 Arizonans who registered to vote over the Internet may be missing from voter rolls. County recorders said some voters were rejected because their forms were improperly filled out, and that others appear on the rolls with name variations. Recorders have been instructed to take measures to ensure that properly registered voters are not turned away.

COLORADO

Oct. 28: Republican poll watchers filed a complaint claiming election officials in the Democratic stronghold of Pueblo County failed to require early voters to produce identification.

Oct. 28: 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.

Oct. 27: As many as 3,700 people have registered to vote in more than one Colorado county this year, nearly two-thirds of them college-age voters, the Denver Post reported. Election officials said they are working to catch double registrations but concede double voting might occur.

Oct. 26: A federal judge left it up to the voters to decide on Election Day whether to change the way Colorado distributes its electoral votes for president. The judge dismissed a lawsuit that challenged a Colorado ballot proposal involving the Electoral College.

Oct. 25: Boulder County officials defended their election system against a privacy lawsuit, saying serial numbers on ballots cannot be used to reveal how an individual voted. Six voters filed a lawsuit last week saying the ballot numbers and bar codes violate their privacy rights.

Oct. 21: The secretary of state issued strict guidelines for poll watchers across the state, limiting each party to one person per station and banning outside groups from sending out teams of lawyers to monitor the election. Parties use poll watchers to keep track of turnout and watch how balloting procedures are performed.

Oct. 20: A company hired by Denver to print and mail absentee ballots failed to send out about 13,000 ballots, but election officials hoped to get them to voters by the end of the week.

FLORIDA

Oct. 30: A Republican operative filed suit against a civil rights organization for allegedly neglecting to turn in voter registration forms collected from citizens during a petition drive. The suit, filed on behalf of 11 Floridians, accuses the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now of using the registrations as a ruse to get people to sign a minimum wage petition. ACORN said the suit is politically motivated.

Oct. 28: 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.

Oct. 26: A judge ruled that state election officials will not be required to process incomplete voter registration forms for the presidential election. At issue are registration forms from voters who do not check a box confirming they are American citizens, even if they sign an oath swearing they are citizens.

Oct. 26: Nearly 300 voters in St. Petersburg received absentee ballots that were missing the second of two pages, Pinellas County elections officials acknowledged. County Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark promised Tuesday to correct the error by Nov. 2. Her office has mailed the inadvertently omitted page to the 293 affected voters, along with an explanation and a postage-paid envelope.

Oct. 25: A judge ruled that Florida's touch-screen voting machines do not have to produce a paper record for use in case a recount becomes necessary. A Democratic congressman had filed the lawsuit, seeking a paper trail or a switch to paper ballots in 15 counties.

Oct. 25: A judge denied a request from a coalition of unions and black groups to add four early voting sites in Duval County, home to Jacksonville.

Oct. 21: A federal judge said the state must reject provisional ballots if they are cast in the wrong precinct — another defeat to Democrats who wanted looser requirements. The ruling is in line with one handed down this week by the state Supreme Court in a similar case.

Oct. 21: Republicans accused Democrats of breaking political money laws in Florida. They said Democrats engaged in cozy arrangements among candidates, unions and outside fund-raising groups as part of an effort to turn out voters. Democrats said the allegation was absurd.

Oct. 21: Tens of thousands of Florida voters may be illegally registered to vote in two states, and more than 1,600 may have cast ballots in Florida and one of two other states in recent elections, the Orlando Sentinel reported in Friday's editions. The Sentinel examination of voting records from Florida, Georgia and North Carolina found more than 68,000 cases in which voters with the same names and dates of birth were registered in two states.

GEORGIA

Oct. 28: 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.

Oct. 20: A group of international election observers said in a report that Georgia's electronic voting machines should create paper receipts and poll workers should get more training. The report is the result of a visit to Georgia in September by a 20-member team of civic leaders, professors and lawyers from 15 countries.

ILLINOIS:

Oct. 25: Officials denied a request to extend the counting period for absentee ballots that are postmarked before the election but not received until afterward. The decision does not affect military votes. Other ballots received after the close of polls on Election Day cannot be counted under Illinois election law.

IOWA

Oct. 28: 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.

Oct. 27: Five voters who sued the secretary of state over a provisional ballots decision did not exhaust administrative remedies, the state argued in court. The plaintiffs, who argue ballots cast in the wrong polling place may dilute properly cast votes, present their arguments later Wednesday.

Oct. 26: Five Republican voters have filed a lawsuit challenging a rule requiring provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct to be counted. A judge was set to hear arguments Wednesday.

MICHIGAN

Oct. 26: A federal appeals court ruled that provisional ballots cast outside the precinct where a voter resides cannot be counted in Michigan. The ruling followed a similar decision by the same court in an Ohio case over the weekend. It is yet another defeat to Democrats over provisional ballots.

Oct. 21: Top elections officials said they were worried about the ramifications of a court ruling this week on how to handle provisional ballots. They are concerned about voter confusion and whether they will have enough time to provide local clerks with the proper Election Day instructions.

MINNESOTA

Oct. 29: Media groups asked Minnesota's county auditors to grant journalists complete access to polling places. The request was in response to a new state law that requires journalists to have a written letter of permission from election officials to observe in a polling place.

NEBRASKA

Oct. 30: Nearly 1,000 people who voted by absentee ballot were asked to recast their votes because the ballots they used lacked the necessary signatures of the election commissioner or a representative. New ballots were sent to voters by overnight mail.

NEVADA

Oct. 25: Two Republican voters asked a Nevada judge to reject a Democrat's request to reopen voter registration based on his claim that his voter application form was destroyed by a GOP-funded group. The Republicans said one voter's complaint should not apply broadly to all voters. Nevada's voter registration deadline was Oct. 2.

Oct. 20: The state's top elections official insisted that exit pollsters for media outlets must stay 100 feet from the polls to ensure "hassle-free, intimidation-free" voting sites. The law is intended to block partisan activity near the polls, but an attorney for news organizations including The Associated Press questioned why it should apply to the media.

NEW JERSEY

Oct. 26: A judge ruled that voters will be able to use electronic voting machines Nov. 2, rejecting an effort to alter the way 3 million residents cast their ballots. The judge said the machines have a long record of being reliable.

NORTH CAROLINA

Oct. 26: The state Republican Party filed a complaint with the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections, charging election officials coached voters on how to cast a straight Democratic-party ticket. Mecklenburg County is home to Charlotte.

Oct. 21: At least half of North Carolina's National Guard troops in Iraq didn't receive their absentee ballots in time for their votes to be counted, said Lt. Michelle Locke, who helped with voting at a base northeast of Baghdad. Locke, who didn't get her ballot, said troops who wanted to vote in the Nov. 2 general election received special all-write-in ballots that had been sent by the military in case something went wrong.

OHIO

Oct. 29: Republicans lost an attempt to restart hearings on thousands of voter registrations that the party has contested. The decision by state attorney general refused to comply with the request.

Oct. 28: 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.

Oct. 26: The secretary of state ordered county election boards to let voters whose registrations are successfully challenged to still cast provisional ballots on Election Day. The order followed the Ohio Republican Party's challenge of the registrations of 35,000 voters last week.

Oct. 26: The U.S. Supreme Court declined to put Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader on the ballot in Ohio.

Oct. 25: Republicans withdrew thousands of challenges to new voter registrations because of errors in their filings apparently caused by a computer glitch. In filing the challenges, the GOP said mail sent to the newly registered voters was returned as undeliverable.

Oct. 21: County elections officials say a court battle over the votes of people who go to the wrong polling place has left them unsure how to train poll workers and what to tell voters about where they can cast ballots. Ohio is the site of an intense, back-and-forth legal battle over provisional ballots.

PENNSYLVANIA

Oct. 29: A federal judge approved a settlement between Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and the parents of two servicemen who sued to extend the deadline for counting overseas military and civilian ballots for president.

Oct. 20: Workers taking part in a Republican-funded voter registration drive said they were told to avoid signing up Democrats or people who might vote for John Kerry. The Republican National Committee denied the accusations and suggested that Democrats were orchestrating the charges.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Oct. 20: A health organization that promised flu shots on Election Day in six of South Carolina's poorest counties has drawn criticism from Republicans that the effort is politically motivated. The GOP says some of the targeted counties are Democratic-leaning. The organization denied the allegations and said the mailing was sent to areas with low vaccination rates based on federal data.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Oct. 28: 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.

WISCONSIN

Oct. 30: A review by the Milwaukee city attorney's office found hundreds of addresses that the state Republican Party had claimed were incorrect or nonexistent. The state GOP has asked the Wisconsin Elections Board to remove the names of about 5,600 registered voters from the rolls, claiming addresses listed with city officials are fictitious. The city attorney's office found problems with the GOP's database, but a Republican official said most of the addresses are invalid.

Oct. 29: The state GOP asked the Wisconsin Elections Board to remove the names of about 5,600 people registered to vote in Milwaukee. Republicans said the addresses listed with city officials are fictitious. A board attorney there was not enough time to convene a hearing on the matter.

Oct. 28: 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.

Oct. 28: 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.