CINCINNATI, Nov. 2 A federal appeals court early today cleared the way for political party challengers to monitor voting at the Ohio polls. But Ohio's Republican governor, Bob Taft, said GOP monitors would merely be observing balloting and not challenging voters' eligibility.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled 2-1 early today reversing two federal judges and granting emergency stays that allow Republicans and Democrats one challenger per precinct each. Hours before the polls opened, Justice John Paul Stevens rejected a request for Supreme Court review.
The parties quickly got out the word to workers, but Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said today it was his understanding that challengers "would only be witnesses." Democrats had called such challenges voter intimidation.
This morning in Cincinnati, poll watchers were in place but there were few reports of voters being challenged as long lines waited in a steady rain.
At the Westlawn Lutheran Church, where several precincts are consolidated in predominantly black Ward 7, two Republican challengers sat and watched -- and sometimes offered help to voters but issued no challenges.
Mark Weaver, attorney for the Ohio Republican Party, would not elaborate on what Republican monitors were told.
In Toledo, Weaver plans to seek a temporary restraining order against America Coming Together (ACT) and ACORN, two liberal political groups, instructing the groups' volunteers to abide by election laws. Weaver said the groups had created a circus-like atmosphere in some polling places, with volunteers wearing partisan buttons within 100 feet of the polls and using bullhorns that disrupted the quiet around polling places.
"Going to the polls shouldn't have to feel like crossing a picket line," Weaver said. "Ironically, the Democrats are doing what they accused us of planning to do -- intimidate voters away from the polls."
ACT spokeswoman Christy Setzer called the Republican charge ridiculous, saying her group's workers were going door-to-door and not working at the polls. "It is particularly ironic given that the president said he wanted to avoid a world of lawsuits," she said.
The Republican monitors declined to answer questions about what they were told to do. One of the workers brought two elderly voters cups of water and offered his chair to another. He shared leftover Halloween candy with election judges. And when two of the voting machines broke down, a judge asked the GOP volunteer to help.
After looking at the machine, he declined, joking to a reporter, "The last thing I need is to be accused of breaking a voting machine." The GOP worker only identified himself as "Jeff."
A Democrat challenger who sat nearby expressed relief that the GOP monitors did not challenge voters. "I had anticipated more challenges," said Kim Singleton-Filio, a special education teacher volunteering for Democrat John F. Kerry's campaign. "It is more like good-ole-boys."
Later however, the Republican monitors were seen making a detailed list of all voters who obtained provisional ballots provided under federal law to any voter whose name does not appear on the local rolls. Several voters arrived saying that they had requested an absentee ballot but never received it.
Timothy M. Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Elections and also co-chairman of the county's Democratic Party, said the lead-up to the election had been "rough and very confusing."