Ohio Blacks to be bullied into not voting.
Court OKs GOP bid to challenge voters
By Tim Jones Tribune national correspondent
Hours before the polls were to open in Ohio, a federal appeals court cleared the way early Tuesday for Republican Party efforts to challenge voters' eligibility at polling places in the state, legal representatives on both sides of the issue said.
A lawyer for a black couple who sought to stop the practice said shortly after midnight he had already asked the Supreme Court to block the circuit court ruling, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (news - web sites) in Cincinnati consolidated both lower court cases and ruled that the challengers could be present at the polls, The AP said.
The unusual late-night hearing came after Republicans suffered a setback when two federal judges declared the challenges unconstitutional. The rulings drew into sharp focus the political stakes in this strategically important state with 20 electoral votes.
The legal storm over alleged fraud and claims of voter intimidation in Ohio gained strength as several other closely contested states drew scrutiny from lawyers, independent poll watchers and political parties.
Republicans and Democrats prepared to send thousands of lawyers and observers to potential trouble spots, including Florida, where the disputed presidential election four years ago was decided by 537 votes. By the time voting booths open in Florida on Tuesday, about 20 percent of the state's voters already will have cast ballots. Nationwide, a heavy voter turnout is forecast.
In Missouri, Democratic activists and civil rights officials also charged that Republicans were planning to send poll watchers to challenge the credentials of newly registered black voters in predominantly African-American precincts in St. Louis County. Republicans strongly denied the allegation.
"There's a suspicion that the Republican game plan is to hold down the count in the African-American community," said Harold Crumpton, president of the St. Louis branch of the NAACP. "We do not want unqualified people voting. But there are unqualified voters in the white community, too, yet Republicans are not planning on scrutinizing them."
Sara Howard, spokeswoman for America Coming Together, a Democratic advocacy group, claimed Republicans had obtained lists of 125,000 newly registered Democratic voters, many of them black, and were planning on challenging a large number of them to produce proof of their identity and residence.
But Republican officials countered that they are only planning to send observers to known "problem areas" to ensure that no ineligible voters are allowed to cast ballots.
"We are not targeting African-American areas whatsoever," said Paul Sloca, spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party. "We're just looking at all voters to make sure their information is accurate and that the people of Missouri who are eligible to vote cast a single vote."
35,000 registrations at issue
In Ohio, about 800,000 new voters have been registered this year, and Republicans contend that at least 35,000 of those registrations could be fraudulent. The GOP has more than 3,600 polling place observers ready to challenge voters Tuesday in 30 of the state's 88 counties--if the courts allow.
Democrats, noting that many of the challenges have been filed in areas of the state with large black populations, argue the GOP is engaged in voter harassment.
Hundreds of Republican and Democratic Party election lawyers, many of whom have been engaged a furious exchange of litigation, are poised to continue the fight after Tuesday, if need be.
Edward Foley, a professor at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law, called the mobilization of lawyers "extraordinary." He said lawsuits are proliferating because there "is a perception that litigation mattered the last time."
The Ohio Poll, released Monday by the University of Cincinnati, showed Bush and Sen. John Kerry (news - web sites) locked in a statistical tie. Voter turnout here is projected to be 72 percent of registered voters. No Republican has advanced to the White House without winning Ohio.
Foley said that if the margin of victory in Ohio is 1 percent or less of the total vote and Ohio's 20 electoral votes could tilt the national outcome, lawyers almost certainly will be back in court.
Cincinnati, Akron rulings
Monday's district court rulings upped the legal ante. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott of Cincinnati said the Ohio law allowing challengers at polling places is unconstitutional. Inexperienced challengers would impede the voting process, said Dlott, ruling on a suit filed by a black Cincinnati couple who said Republicans were trying to intimidate black voters.
U.S. District Judge John Adams of Akron ruled on a suit from the Summit County Democratic Party, which argued that GOP challenges to voter registration did not allow disqualified voters to appeal in time for the election.
Adams said poll workers, not private individuals representing political parties, are the people responsible for determining whether voters are eligible.
"The court cannot and must not turn a blind eye to the substantial likelihood that significant harm will result not only to voters, but also to the voting process itself, if appointed challengers are permitted at the polls," Adams said.
David Sullivan, who heads the Democratic Party's Voter Protection Program in Ohio, said Republicans had no evidence of fraud. Mark Weaver, lawyer for the Ohio Republican Party, said there are "mountains and mountains of fraudulent registrations."
But Ohio Republicans are not unified on the matter. Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's chief elections officer and an African-American, said Monday that he was pleased with the lower court rulings, calling them a "victory for Ohio voters."
"The absence of these challengers will make Ohio's polling places more inviting to our voters," Blackwell said.
"racism is dead, it died when MLK walked on a bridge and freed the slaves. Now we have a socialist Kenyan president who is not an American and if anyone mentions race they are a reverse racist (while racism is dead, reverse racism is alive and well.) #whattheyteachyouatfox