washingtonpost.com  > Politics > Elections > 2004 Election
Page 2 of 2  < Back  

Legal Battle for Presidency Underway

"I have no doubt that we will have more than enough," he said. "If we go into a recount situation, we are far better prepared to respond than before."

And although Bush-Cheney general counsel Tom Josefiak said in an interview that "this election needs to be decided by the voters, not a bunch of lawyers," in a fundraising letter he sent out over the weekend he implored donors to "make sure we have the resources to defend the outcome of this election if it comes under attack." The GOP would not say how much it has raised.

John F. Kerry responds to cheers in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Gerald Herbert -- AP)

_____Message Boards_____
Post Your Comments

Not surprisingly, the legal efforts have provided both sides with political fodder.

Democrats point to a history of Republican "ballot integrity" initiatives and charge that the GOP is trying to intimidate black voters, who overwhelmingly support Kerry over Bush.

Republicans counter that the Democrats are cynically using the issue of minority-vote suppression to motivate their political base, pointing to a party handbook that advises lawyers to mount "preemptive strikes" to raise awareness about past voter intimidation efforts even in places where none currently exists.

Democrats have been particularly aggressive in the pre-Election Day legal skirmishing. By filing lawsuits now, Democrats say, they hope to avoid a recount altogether.

"We're going to protect our vote, and by doing that, we think we'll win," said Bob Bauer, the Democratic Party's national counsel for voter protection. Lawsuits filed by the party and Democratic interest groups in Florida and Ohio, another critical state, seek to prevent local election officials from rejecting thousands of incomplete registrations. The lawsuits contend that in both states, Republican election chiefs are requiring that forms contain information that is irrelevant to determining a voter's eligibility.

The parties are also fighting over "provisional ballots" given to people who show up at the polls and do not find their names on voter rolls. The Help America Vote Act passed by Congress in 2002 required that those ballots be counted if it can be determined after Election Day that the voters were eligible.

A number of Republican election chiefs have decided that those ballots should be counted only if they are cast in the voters' proper precincts. Democrats, who contend that provisional ballots will be used mainly by poor and minority voters who tend to move a lot, have sued in several states. Some federal courts have upheld those rules, but others, including one in Michigan yesterday, have sided with the Democrats in ruling that the provisional ballots should be counted regardless of where they are cast.

Both sides are keeping an eye on Colorado, where a ballot initiative could change the way that state's nine electoral votes are allocated, from a winner-take-all approach to one that divvies them up based on the popular vote. If the presidential election comes down to Colorado's electoral votes, they say, a legal battle to decide the presidency could once again land at the door of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The effort is not confined to the two parties. A coalition of civil rights groups have put together an "Election Protection" program to deploy 6,000 lawyers and law students to assist minority voters. And the Republican National Lawyers Association, which is not formally affiliated with the GOP, has trained about 1,000 lawyers to watch out for unlawful activities at the polls.

The fact that some of the rules are still in flux so close to the election has some experts concerned that poll workers could add to the chaos of Election Day by giving voters incorrect information.

Add that to all the lawyers who will be at the polls, said Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, a group that tracks election reform, and "it's going to be impossible to get through Election Day without some kind of major problem somewhere."

< Back  1 2

© 2004 The Washington Post Company