Wed, Nov 03, 2004 - Page 5 News List

US Election: Lawyers ready for election result

ELECTION ON TRIAL Convinced that more energetic challenges could have swayed the 2000 election, Democrats have hired an army of lawyers in case of a close result

THE GUARDIAN , MIAMI, FLORIDA

Teams of Democratic and Repub-lican lawyers were poised to start launching legal challenges in Florida and elsewhere from the moment the polls opened yesterday, without waiting until the close of voting to start disputing procedures at individual polling stations.

The Democrats, convinced that more vigorous challenges might have swung the result in 2000, claim to have 10,000 lawyers on standby around the country, ready to be deployed wherever the need arises.

They reputedly have 1,000 in Florida alone, including Janet Reno, former president Bill Clinton's attorney general.

As several analysts noted yesterday, there seemed little chance that so much legal firepower would be willing to spend today doing nothing -- especially if, as expected, thousands of voters are challenged by party poll workers.

Florida's network of emergency judges could hear cases within 15 minutes of a request being made, prompting cross-county dashes by lawyers as they race to represent their side in court.

Democrats may also argue that Republican challenges constitute interference with the election by causing long delays, even if they do not necessarily lead to legitimate voters being turned away.

"One of the effects is simply that it will consume time -- and if the line is long, well, how long would you wait in the heat?" said Terry Anderson, a leading law professor at the University of Miami.

"In minority districts, even if they aren't successful in their challenges, they may be successful in driving voters away," he said.

Local reports from counties around Florida suggest that signup lists, used by poll workers to indicate where they will be stationed today, show a heavy concentration of Republican activists in black areas, with far fewer in predominantly white neighborhoods.

"It's beyond coincidence," Kendrick Meek, Senator John Kerry's campaign chairman in Florida, told the Washington Post.

But the biggest showdown, if it happens, probably will come after the result, providing that the outcome falls into the so-called "margin of litigation," the point at which a victory is narrow enough for challenging it to become politically feasible.

Nobody dared speculate on Monday as to what that margin might be. But the most likely target for a rerun of 2000's "chad wars" is the provisional voting system, whereby voters who encounter eligibility problems at the polls can fill out a ballot anyway.

Their vote, and the validity of their registration, is then assessed afterwards -- a procedure that would seem to be an open invitation for head-to-head legal arguments that could drag on for days.

Already Monday, there were foreshadowings of disputes to come.

Lawyers have also been clashing in Palm Beach County, where the validity of a small number of absentee ballots -- 44, as of Monday morning -- were being disputed either by Democrats or Republicans.

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