Tue, Nov 02, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Trust emerging as the real loser

SERIOUS STRUGGLE The propaganda war between the two major parties has led to an environment in which intimidation and fraud is expected around every corner

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

A Haitian woman supporting US Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry wears a Kerry sticker on her headscarf as she participates in a march against President George W. Bush in the Little Haiti district of Miami on Sunday. Florida was a post-election battleground in 2000, with many people of color disenfranchised at several polling booths.

PHOTO: AFP

In Lake County, Ohio, officials say at least a handful of voters have reported receiving a notice on phony board-of-elections letterhead saying that anyone who had registered through a variety of Democratic-leaning groups would not be allowed to vote this year.

In Pennsylvania, an official of the state Republican Party said it sent out 130,000 letters congratulating newly registered voters but that 10,000 were returned, indicating that the people had died or that the address was nonexistent. Mark Pfeifle, the Republican spokesman, said the numbers showed that in their zeal to register new voters, Democratic-aligned groups had committed fraud.

And in Michigan, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land said she had to put out a statement mid-last month about where to send absentee ballots after voters in the Ann Arbor area received calls telling them to mail the ballots to the wrong address.

With lawyers and poll watchers descending on battleground states and the presidential race tight enough that every vote could count, elections officials say that charges of voter intimidation and voter fraud, on the street or in courtrooms, are flying more furiously than anyone can remember in recent elections.

Much of the tone has been set by a propaganda war of sorts between the parties, with the Democrats charging that efforts are being made to suppress the vote and Republicans warning against voter fraud or double voting.

In part, the charges are designed by each party to get out their core supporters to the polls. But court battles already under way over such matters as to who gets to cast provisional ballots show this is also a serious struggle that could continue in the courts.

Democrats have tried to walk a fine line. For weeks they made charges that Republicans were working to keep down turnout and deter newly registered voters. But as election day has approached, they have moderated their tone, assuring voters that all will be fine at the polls, mindful of surveys showing that reports of confusion can deter voters.

In Philadelphia, where turnout among blacks is considered crucial to the Democrats winning Pennsylvania, state Democrats held a press conference last week where the Reverend Jesse Jackson assured voters there would be no disruptions at the polls. Michael Whouley, the get-out-the-vote expert at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), held a teleconference with reporters last week to insist that the reports of challenges and confusion at polling places were greatly exaggerated.

"American democracy is working," he said.

Jenny Backus, another adviser to the DNC, said that early voting had gone smoothly, and that election day would too.

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