DETROIT – Michigan Republicans filed a lawsuit Tuesday over election challengers monitoring polling precincts in the city. The NAACP (search), meanwhile, threatened legal action related to the same issue.
The Michigan Republican Party (search) filed suit against the city, accusing election workers of wrongfully expelling some GOP poll challengers from precincts. It also asked the Wayne County Circuit Court to order Detroit officials to remove members of liberal interest group MoveOn.org (search) from polling places, executive director Greg McNeilly said.
"This situation has created a vast opportunity for election fraud," he said.
The NAACP had said it would ask a federal judge to bar challengers from Detroit's polling places, complaining of intimidation and harassment of voters. The civil rights group also said it would ask the judge to extend polling hours past 8 p.m. EST.
The NAACP reconsidered filing a lawsuit later Tuesday after hearing from clerks that the voting process was continuing normally, said Heaster Wheeler, the executive director of the Detroit branch of the NAACP.
But the group still has concerns about voter intimidation. At a polling place in west Detroit, Wheeler said he spoke to three men who identified themselves as lawyers for the Bush-Cheney campaign from Kent County. The NAACP received complaints about other supposed Bush-Cheney campaign workers at eight or nine polling places in the city.
"When you see groups of white men in predominantly black neighborhoods there's reason for concern," he said.
The NAACP was scheduled to meet with its attorneys on Wednesday and could decide to file a lawsuit against the state Republican party at that time, Wheeler said.
Despite some problems, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said Tuesday was a great Election Day.
"I think there was some intimidation out there, but not enough to keep the polls open longer in the city of Detroit," Kilpatrick told WDIV-TV.
Political parties are allowed to appoint challengers to monitor election officials to make sure they're following the rules.
Challengers can position themselves behind the election inspectors' table, examine voting equipment, observe each person wanting to vote, inspect registration rolls and voter applications, look at ballots as they are counted and remain in the precinct until election officials finish their work.
The NAACP said it received 35 complaints of Republican poll watchers harassing and intimidating voters in the city.
"You don't have the right to question, intimidate, harass or touch the electorate," said Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We don't want to wait until after the election to send up red flags."
The Justice Department did not return a call seeking comment.
The secretary of state's office said there were complaints that members of MoveOn.Org were causing disruptions at precincts in communities scattered across the state.
Complaints were made by election officials in Lansing, Troy, Ferndale, Grand Rapids and Milford, secretary of state spokeswoman Kelly Chesney said. She said poll watchers are not allowed to campaign within 100 feet of the polls or confront voters.
"We're not making any special accommodations for that or any other group that shows up at the polls," Chesney said.
Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn PAC, the political action committee for MoveOn.Org, denied claims in Michigan and some other states that some of the group's 70,000 volunteers were interfering with the election.
"We appear to be the victim of an orchestrated and premeditated Republican effort to create a phony story line they can use to challenge the results if this election is close," Pariser said during a conference call. "They're trying to paint MoveOn as the bogeyman of this election."
Citizens lobbying group Common Cause identified Wayne County, which includes Detroit, as a key area where voting problems were being reported. Common Cause President Chellie Pingree said many of the problems nationwide stemmed from extremely heavy turnout and, in some cases, untrained poll workers.
"The big challenge is we were clearly not prepared in this country to handle so many voters," Pingree said.
Terri Lynn Land, the secretary of state and a Republican, expects about the same percentage of Michigan residents to vote as in the 2000 presidential election, but turnout could be higher because more people are registered to vote.