In Missouri, a Forecast for Voter Misery

By Amy Goldstein and Peter Slevin
Monday, November 6, 2006

Move over, Florida. You, too, Ohio. The state most ripe for voting disputes in tomorrow's voting, according to election law experts across the ideological spectrum, may well be Missouri.

"I feel a little like somebody in New Orleans the weekend before Katrina hit," said St. Louis attorney Mark "Thor" Hearne, who was the chief election lawyer for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign and now is counsel to a conservative group working to prevent voting fraud.

"I really, really, really hope Missouri does not find itself in the cross hairs," he said. But teams of lawyers care ready.

Prognosticators say the electoral climate in Missouri is volatile to start with because the state has perhaps the tightest Senate contest in the nation. First-term Sen. James M. Talent (R) has been deadlocked in polls for the past few months with his Democratic challenger, State Auditor Claire McCaskill. Voters also appear narrowly divided over a ballot initiative to allow usage of stem cells in medical research.

Those high stakes could drive up turnout and produce long lines at voting sites. They also could produce a thin enough margin in the Senate race to motivate the apparent loser to challenge the results.

Both parties already are complaining about possible voting trouble. Democrats and their allies say voters may be confused by a new state law requiring them to bring a photo ID to the polls. The law was struck down in court.

"Will poll workers inappropriately ask for ID? Will those kind of disputes lead to provisional ballots?" asked Tova Wang, an elections specialist at the Century Foundation.

Republicans, for their part, accuse Democrats of a history of voter fraud in the state. They point to the indictment last week of four workers for a liberal group, ACORN, alleged to have submitted false voter registrations to Kansas City's election board.

Given that mood, this is what Rick Hasen, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, posted the other day on his Web site, : "If I were a journalist interested in the potential election meltdown of 2006, I'd head to St. Louis."

Rallying the Christian Left

In Ohio, faithful Christians on the left are working to turn the tables on the Christian right. Using the language of equality and social justice, pastors urged nearly 400 people at a Columbus church last week to vote their liberal hearts and "create a just and peaceful world."

The featured speaker at Broad Street Presbyterian Church was Jim Wallis, the left-leaning author of "God's Politics" who has been urging Christian audiences around the country to fight back against social conservatives who helped create the Republican majority in Washington. He spoke of humility, reflection "and even accountability."

He also backed a statewide ballot initiative that would raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.85. A group called Let Justice Roll passed out sign-up sheets for a voter turnout operation.

"Not paying decent wages is a biblical issue in my Bible," Wallis said. "Inequality is a biblical issue. Inequality makes God mad and should make us mad, too."

Wallis was introduced to the downtown crowd by the pastor of Vineyard Church of Columbus, the Rev. Rich Nathan, who thinks evangelicals are a diverse community with an array of concerns wider than abortion and gay marriage -- and have a less monolithic worldview than the media often portray.

"I believe we're going to see an entirely different trajectory in the evangelical church in the next decade," Nathan said. "The evangelical vote is up for grabs, and that is a good thing."

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