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Between the Lines

October 27, 2004

Wild cards

Let's talk about voters and voting. There's a lot of pot-stirring going on nationally. Some encouraging. Some not. All of it potentially important if this election turns out to be a replay of 2000 in terms of closeness.

Millions of new potential voters have been registered. Many of these are, predictably, from poor and/or minority areas. Republicans say they're worried about vote fraud by Democrats, who they claim are registering people who don't exist or are inelible to vote. Democrats say they are worried about voter intimidation by Republicans, who they claim are doing everything they can to suppress turnout in areas that can be expected to vote heavily Democratic.

I'm worried about another election being decided by the nine unelected politicians who picked the winner last time. Or maybe by eight of those nine, plus a player to be named soon, if this post is any indication.

My anxiety about another judicially appointed president inched up this morning, when I read here that a computer model has calculated 33 combinations in which the 11 so-called swing states could align to produce a 269-269 tie in the electoral vote. That outcome, of course, would guarantee Bush's re-election because the GOP-controlled House of Representatives would decide the winner. Worse, it would guarantee months, and probably years, of recriminations that would further undermine the fragile structure of public trust that underlies our government.

Logically, it would seem that there also would be 33 alignments that would not produce a tie. Let's hope for one of those and that either Kerry or Bush wins the popular vote by at least 1 percent, the threshold that usually is enough to ensure what most people can agree is a legitimate victory.

Unfortunately, the possibility that this election, too, may wind up in judicial hands seems distinctly possible. And, of course, what's happening in the swing states may prove crucial in this respect. Let's take a look:

'Fraud' and 'suppression' in Ohio

There, as elsewhere, newly registered voters are on everyone's radar screen. As The New York Times reports:

many newly registered voters are wild cards whose uncertain allegiances could tip the vote in closely contested states like this one, making such voters the focus of an intense tug of war between the parties.

Certainly, their numbers are legion. In Ohio, nearly three-quarters of a million people registered to vote this year, bringing the state's total registration to over 7.8 million, a record. In Iowa, Florida and Pennsylvania as well, registration drives -- largely by Democratic groups -- have swelled voter rolls to new levels, raising the likelihood that more people will vote this year than since the high-turnout year of 1992, experts said.

One major question for both Democrats and Republicans is how likely the newly registered are to actually vote. After all, there's a reason a lot of people were unregisted: they aren't interested. Still, in most places new registrants seem to be much more heavily Democratic than they are Republican. So even if they vote in relatively modest numbers, if they vote along the lines shown by registration statistics it could be enough to make the difference for Kerry in close states. As the Times reports:

But with as many as 60 percent of the new registrations thought to be for Mr. Kerry in Ohio -- people here do not register by party, leaving partisan breakdowns imprecise -- Republicans have intensified efforts to ferret out fraud and raise questions about the validity of new voters in Democratic precincts.

Last week, the Ohio Republican Party challenged more than 35,000 new registrations after mail sent to those addresses was returned as undeliverable. Several thousand of those challenges have been withdrawn because of technical problems with the challenge forms. But the Republicans say they will push for a review of about 14,000 registrations in the Cleveland area, the heart of Mr. Kerry's support in Ohio.

The Ohio Republicans also plan to have people in more than 3,600 polling places, mostly in heavily Democratic urban areas, to challenge the right of people to vote on Election Day itself. And they are pressing for criminal investigations into accusations of fraudulent registrations in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and several other cities.

**

Democrats say the Republican antifraud campaign amounts to an effort to suppress voting in Democratic areas, particularly black communities. Acorn, a nonprofit group that conducted voter registration in poor neighborhoods, asserts that 46 percent of the Republican challenges in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, were against black people, who represent only 27 percent of the county's population.

So there you go: fraud or suppression, take your pick.

Let Florida be Florida again

Lord knows, it's trying:

A secret document obtained from inside Bush campaign headquarters in Florida suggests a plan -- possibly in violation of US law -- to disrupt voting in the state's African-American voting districts, a BBC Newsnight investigation reveals.

Setting aside possible illegal activity, we shouldn't discount the possible impact of mere incompetence in Jebland, either.

The Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office pointed a finger at the U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday for nearly 60,000 missing absentee ballots, but took the blame for having a phone system that was being overwhelmed by calls from frustrated voters.

While the post office denied responsibility for the missing ballots, Broward County commissioners, anxious to avoid another failed election, offered to send county employees to help with the phones. Dozens of employees could begin assisting the elections office today to answer telephone calls and to process voters at the 14 early voting sites.

"What we are seeing is unprecedented, so if the supervisor of elections needs our help, we will help," County Mayor Ilene Lieberman said. "It's a week to the election, and voting is a basic right in our country."

Most of it, anyway.

All peeved in Pa.

Republican talk about vote fraud and Democratic talk about voter intimidation have become the targets of an urban war being fought nationwide between the election organizations of Democratic challenger John Kerry and Bush. Each side has used suspicion of the other's motives to energize its supporters and get them out to vote Nov. 2.

Political historian Michael Young, a retired professor at Pennsylvania State University-Harrisburg, said there was precedent for each side to worry.

"Republicans have frequently -- almost chronically -- engaged in what I think can fairly be called voter-intimidation tactics in order to hold down the Democratic vote," he said. "On the other hand, the Democrats have been chronic cheats in being able to vote the cemeteries."

Both sides, of course, have legions of lawyers standing by, eager, as always, to rush perceived wrongs into the nearest courtroom. Please -- do your part for a decisive result Tuesday.

Posted by tbrown at 01:54 PM


Washington is not a swing state

I still see it described that way in some electoral-vote counts. It isn't. That became clear when the Bush campaign cut its advertising campaign here.

Kerry will get at least 52 percent of the vote in Washington, Nader maybe 1.5 and Bush somewhere around 47. And I think I'm being conservative, based on what we know today (I never discount the possibility of a final October Surprise).

Posted by tbrown at 01:42 PM


Who knew?
About a third of the undecided have not really been paying attention. -- Terry Madonna, director of the Pennsylvania poll at Frankly & Marshall University in Lancaster, Pa.
Posted by tbrown at 01:41 PM


Correction of the day

From The Wall Street Journal:

News Corp.'s Fox News was incorrectly described in a page-one article Monday as being sympathetic to the Bush cause.

Really. It's impossible to make this stuff up.

Here's the offending paragraph from the original story:

Mr. Bush believes the key to victory lies in his party's conservative core. He gave a rare interview over the weekend to Fox News, a network sympathetic to the Bush cause and popular with Republicans. Among other things, Mr. Bush voiced doubts about whether the country can be fully protected from future terror attacks. "Whether or not we can be ever fully safe is up -- you know, up in the air," he said

Oh, I get it Fox is popular with Republicans because it's "fair and balanced."

Posted by tbrown at 01:40 PM




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