Parties Ready Accusations, Challenges for Election In the final days before the 2006 midterm election, there are charges that Republicans are trying to intimidate voters, and that Democrats are turning a blind eye to voter fraud. Republicans say they're just trying to make sure there is no illegitimate voting, citing a case of fraudulent registrations.
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Parties Ready Accusations, Challenges for Election

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Parties Ready Accusations, Challenges for Election

Parties Ready Accusations, Challenges for Election

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

While most voters may have made up their minds by now, the campaigns themselves are still hard at work, and almost every year on both sides there are attempts to manipulate the vote. In 2004, Ohio voters received flyers telling them that Democrats were supposed to vote on Wednesday, the day after the election. In Milwaukee, Democratic activists were charged with slashing the tires on vans rented by Republicans to take voters to the polls.

And in the final days of this year's campaign, there are new allegations of fraud and intimidation, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER: A Republican operative came to the Westchester County, New York, Board of Elections about a week ago with almost 6,000 pieces of paper, each one challenging the legitimacy of a registered voter. Election Commissioner Carolee Sunderland says every paper had to be signed by the challenger in front of a witness.

Ms. CAROLEE SUNDERLAND (Westchester County Election Commissioner): He arrived, I don't know, 2:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m. on Friday and I don't think they were finished until 8:30 p.m., 9:00 p.m. at night.

FESSLER: Now that's commitment. But Republicans say change of address forms showed that these voters had moved and they want to make sure there's no opportunity for fraud in an extremely tight race here for state senate.

The Democratic candidate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, complains that it's really voter intimidation. Police are supposed to check out the challenged voters, even though election official Sunderland says that won't happen until after the election, if at all.

Ms. SUNDERLAND: No one's going to be seeing any police go to their dwelling or ask questions or anything of that nature.

FESSLER: Still, the uproar has been great, and it's not the only such dispute as the parties brace for close races across the country. In Maryland, Democrats have blasted a new Republican poll watchers' guide. They say it's designed to suppress the vote because it encourages poll watchers to challenge any voter who appears to be illegitimate.

Representative ELIJAH CUMMINGS (Democrat, Maryland): This is not only about intimidating voters at the voting booth, it's also about causing confusion and fear.

FESSLER: Congressman Elijah Cummings heads the Maryland Democrats' voter protection effort. He says some voters may just decide it's not worth the hassle to go to the polls if they face challenges, and he predicts the GOP effort will concentrate on predominately African American precincts.

Representative CUMMINGS: The last thing you would want is for African Americans to vote. That's why they target those areas, because African Americans favor Democrats, period. It's not that complicated.

FESSLER: Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, says that's ridiculous. Republicans need every vote they can get in predominately Democratic Maryland. She says it's the Democrats who are exploiting the threat of intimidation.

Ms. AUDRA MILLER (Maryland Republican Party): They're playing fear politics and they're putting something that is really innocuous out into the public as something nefarious, which it is not, trying to inflame voters and stir up enthusiasm for their candidates.

FESSLER: She says Republicans just want an election that's conducted legally. That's one reason there will be thousands of Republican and Democratic attorneys at polling places across the country. They'll be watching for irregularities and preparing for possible legal action.

Spencer Overton, a law professor at George Washington University, says it's hard to pin down just how much voter fraud and intimidation there is out there, but it's clear some legitimate voters are hurt by aggressive challenges.

Professor SPENCER OVERTON (George Washington University): Voters can't always show and/or prove that they're legitimate. They may end up actually having to cast a provisional ballot.

FESSLER: And those aren't always counted. But Republican attorney Thor Hern says it's just as important to protect against fraud. He notes the indictment of four people in Missouri last week for filing phony voter registrations while working for a liberal advocacy group. Hern says there are plenty of examples of voters registered under such names as Dick Tracy and Mary Poppins.

Mr. THOR HERN (Republican Attorney): Every fraudulent vote that is cast disenfranchises a legitimate, lawful voter, and it would be wrong to note enforce those laws, to not take measures to protect against vote fraud, which does unfortunately occur.

FESSLER: He says there might not necessarily be a lot of fraud, but in close races it matters. Hern, who was on the Bush/Cheney Florida recount team in 2000, says it's not only important where all the lawyers and observers are tomorrow, but where they end up on Wednesday.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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