NEW YORK - The most closely scrutinized election in U.S. history is also
proving to be the most litigious, with dozens of states fending off challenges
to aspects of their electoral laws, and some experts predicting the vote
count will again drag out for weeks.
The Democrats, who appear grimly determined to never again countenance the
humiliations of the last election in 2000, when a divided Supreme Court
declared George W Bush the winner based on 537 votes, say they have more
than 10,000 lawyers at their disposal to monitor the polls Nov. 2.
Not to be outdone, the Republicans are deploying their own army of
attorneys to 30,000 voting sites in the most hotly contested states.
Added to the mix is an array of groups, some formed just to avert potential
election fraud, which have filed a flurry of lawsuits on issues ranging
from voter registration to the trustworthiness of electronic voting machines.
In Florida, the eye of the electoral hurricane four years ago, a coalition
of labor unions is suing five counties over thousands of rejected registration
forms -- more than one-third submitted by African Americans and a quarter
by Latinos, groups that both heavily favor Democratic contender Senator
Judith Browne of the Advancement Project, a watchdog group involved in the
suit, said most of the forms were disqualified for minor oversights. For
example, in Broward County, officials refused to process 994 registration
forms because the applicants had signed an oath affirming they were U.S.
citizens but neglected to check a box at the top asking: ”Are you a U.S.
”People have registered in unprecedented numbers, and the counties now have
a huge backlog,” said Browne. ”One problem is that people whose forms were
rejected because they didn't check an irrelevant box haven't been informed,
and they're going to show up on election day to vote and get turned away.”
”There's a lot at stake in this election, and we're just trying to clear
the path for a democratic result,” she added.
The issue is especially sensitive because in the last election, more than
10,000 ballots cast by heavily Democratic-leaning black voters in Florida
were thrown out, effectively handing victory to Bush.
Some polls opened for early voting in the state on Monday, although even
that exercise was fraught with problems, including long delays at many
precincts and computer glitches that prevented election workers from
checking voter rolls.
Common Cause, a national advocacy group that just released a report on
Florida's readiness for the 2004 election, says the problems are so serious
that voters in the 15 districts using touch-screen voting machines should
”seriously consider” using mail-in ballots instead.
With Bush and Kerry tied in the latest polls, and the election again likely
to hinge on a small number of votes, some experts say they would not be
surprised if it takes weeks to declare a winner after Nov. 2.
”There are lots of variables that raise the specter of a disputed election,”
said Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado, citing
the campaigns' obsession with a handful of undecided voters and obvious
willingness to cry fraud.
”One of the most important components of the 2000 election was the
reluctance of the loser to concede defeat, which was something we really
hadn't seen before,” he added in an interview.
”Today, the margin of victory in many parts of the country is within a
range of error that could leave the results open to question.”
”For example,” added Campos, ”there's an excellent chance that the vote in
Florida or Ohio will be close enough that it will be disputable. Throw
Colorado into the mix, and I think we're heading into a brave new world.”
Electionline.org, a non-partisan website that acts as an information
clearinghouse, released a 62-page report Tuesday listing some positive
developments, such as the use of provisional ballots for people whose names
may have been wrongly dropped from the rolls, and expanded access for the
A list of voters rights will also be displayed in every polling place, and
voters will have access to federally mandated complaint procedures if they
But although vast sums have been spent on these and other electoral reform
measures under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which was supposed to set
minimum standards and update obsolete equipment, many of the factors that
precipitated the 2000 fiasco have yet to be addressed.
In Ohio, a ”swing state” where the outcome is too close to call, more than
70 percent of voters will still be relying on punch-card voting machines of
the sort that proved so unreliable in Florida -- and which HAVA
specifically says should be scrapped.
And the dozens of states that eagerly used federal money to replace these
antiquated systems with computers are struggling to allay fears that the
servers are vulnerable to hackers and produce no verifiable paper record in
the event of a recount.
In New Jersey, where polls show Bush and Kerry in a virtual tie, citizens
and Democratic officials filed a lawsuit Tuesday to bar the use of 8,000
computerized voting machines across the state.
”We believe that the only way to ensure that the machines are doing what
they're supposed to do is to have a voter-verified ballot,” said Penny
Venetis, the lead lawyer in the suit.
”But that's an issue to address for the next election. For now, we want all
voting to be done by paper ballot, which the counties are already equipped
for,” she told IPS.
Although nearly one-third of U.S. voters will use touch-screen machines in
the election, only the state of Nevada has installed printers that allow
people to view the ballot before it is cast, and that provide a tangible
record for election officials.
Also, according to the Electionline report, nearly every state is suffering
from a shortage of trained poll workers. Requirements by 17 states to
demand identification from new voters could sow confusion and end up
disenfranchising a disproportionate number of poor people.
Still, the report's authors believe there is reason for optimism.
”American voters return to the polls a changed breed -- better informed,
wiser to the strengths and weaknesses of the electoral process and more
willing to ask questions and/or complain when things fail to go right,”
”This change in voter awareness could have tremendous impact on the
perceived success or failure of election reform since 2000.”
© Copyright 2004 IPS - Inter Press Service