October 28, 2004
Arizona Democrats and Republicans are recruiting hundreds of lawyers and volunteers to carefully watch voting activity on Election Day and to gather information that potentially could be used to challenge a close outcome between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry.
Along with official poll observers from the two major parties, an independent organization called the Arizona Election Protection Coalition will have its own volunteers outside polling places in the East Valley, Phoenix and Tucson to "protect the right to vote." That group has asked that Maricopa County keep a judge at the courthouse until the polls close at 7 p.m., in case a potential voter needs a legal ruling to cast a ballot.
The groups want to make sure voters aren’t denied access to the polls because of improper credential challenges or illegal intimidation.
Memories of the Florida lawsuits in the 2000 election clearly are fueling these efforts. The Bush and Kerry campaigns are assembling armies of legal experts in other battleground states as well, with some lawsuits already under way based on problems with voter registration and early voting irregularities.
The Arizona Democratic party is openly discussing its efforts to bring together up to 150 lawyers and to find more poll watchers this year to cover as many precincts as possible, including 1,058 in Maricopa County. Reporters were invited Monday night to watch a training session for about 105 volunteers at a Phoenix union hall.
"We are confident that, at the end of this election, if all the votes that are cast are counted, John Kerry will be the next president of the United States," Scott Bales, a prominent Democrat attorney from Phoenix, told the volunteers at a training session Monday night.
Republicans have been more reluctant to discuss their plans for Election Day, but the state party acknowledges it also will have dozens of lawyers and volunteers immediately available to help people who encounter problems. Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot sent a nationwide e-mail Tuesday to supporters appealing for donations to a separate legal fund, saying 35 electionrelated lawsuits have been filed in 17 states.
"We have legal teams in place across the state to ensure that every step of the electoral process is transparent, is fair and to ensure no voter is disenfranchised," said Colin McCraken, spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party.
Maricopa County elections director Karen Osborne told the Democratic volunteers Monday she’s aware of only two challenges to someone’s right to vote in the past two decades, and in both cases the ballots eventually were cast.
Osborne said the county’s use of provisional ballots has virtually eliminated the need to turn a potential voter away. If poll workers have questions about a voter’s eligibility, the voter fills out and signs a provisional ballot form that county officials use to determine if the voter is registered before counting the ballot.
"That’s what makes us different from Florida, because we’ve always had a way to cast their ballot, no matter what," Osborne said.
In June, Secretary of State Jan Brewer urged all Arizona counties to be vigilant and to immediately call law enforcement if any polling place encounters problems.
Volunteers who attended the Democrats’ training Monday certainly didn’t share Osborne’s optimistic assessment. Phoenix attorney Mary O’Neill said she was a poll watcher on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in 2002, where voting started two hours late and the lead poll worker initially refused to provide provisional ballots to people who claimed to be eligible but weren’t listed on the registration sheet.
"We were shocked by what we saw," O’Neill said. "Despite the rosy picture they painted here, I think outside the (Maricopa) county, there are more issues."
The Election Protection Coalition is slated to train up to 800 of its own volunteers in Phoenix this afternoon. The group is a part of a national effort, launched by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civic Rights Under Law and the People of the American Way Foundation, to provide poll watchers in 17 states.
"The only thing we’re doing is making sure that every person who is a properly registered voter is able to vote without being harassed, or intimidated or otherwise hindered on election day," said state spokesman Doug Ramsey.
But many of the coalition’s partners have endorsed Kerry or traditionally support Democrat causes. They include the AFL-CIO, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Information: Here is who to call if problems occur on Election Day:
Maricopa County Elections Center: (602) 506-1511
Arizona Democratic Party: (877) 298-6937
Arizona Republican Party: (602) 975-7770
Arizona Election Protection Coalition: (866) 687-8683