Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

As Election Day nears, groups brace for a showdown at the polls

TALLAHASSEE — It won't just be voters heading to the polls this week in Florida and other swing states, but thousands of lawyers and volunteers scrutinizing how ballots are handed out, scanned and stored inside precincts. Thousands more will stand outside to detect efforts to intimidate, disenfranchise or reward voters.

In the post Bush vs. Gore era, this is what Democracy looks like.

"The 2000 election scared the hell out of people," said Nate Persily, a political science professor at Columbia University who has studied election law. "Campaigns are now armed to the hilt with lawyers beforehand so they aren't caught off guard."

It'll be hard to catch either side off guard in an election that is already extraordinarily litigious.

Since January 2011, at least 180 bills in 41 states were introduced that aimed to restrict access to voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. That flurry of legislation led to 25 new laws and two executive actions in 19 states, representing 231 electoral votes — or 85 percent of what's needed to win the White House. Laws in 14 of those states were reversed of weakened, however, after legal challenges.

In Florida, a federal judge earlier this year struck down part of a law passed by lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott that made it harder to register voters by giving groups 48 hours to turn in forms or face fines of $1,000. But other parts of that law remain, setting the stage for a showdown between two deeply mistrustful sides of the electorate.

"The way our elections are run changed in 2000," said Michael Thielen, executive director of the Republican National Lawyers Association. "People realized on the right and the left that there are problems with how we vote and our system needs observers to ensure elections are open and honest."

Republicans and Democrats will have lawyers inside the precincts. They'll call party and campaign headquarters throughout the day with updates.

Assisting the GOP will be about 4,500 lawyers in more than 30 states trained by Thielen's group. They'll monitor polling sites and keep an eye out for fraud of all forms, including voter impersonation and ballot box stuffing, Thielen said. Some Republican lawyers visited Palm Beach County last week to watch how absentee ballots were copied by hand after a glitch prevented them from getting scanned.

Also looking for fraud is True the Vote, a national group with tea party roots from Houston. Its founder, Catherine Engelbrecht has spoken at meetings sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, according to the New York Times, to promote her group's efforts to remove ineligible voters from the rolls, such as noncitizens, felons and people registered at multiple addresses. She has pledged her group will have 1 million poll workers.

Dara Lindenbaum, associate counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said she thinks Engel­brecht's group will field far fewer people than that, however.

But True the Vote's website has helped provide data for like-minded groups like Tampa Vote Fair, which was founded by Kimberly Kelley, a 45-year-old registered Republican from Lithia. She said her group will station 40 certified poll watchers inside and outside the largest precincts in Hillsborough County. Although her group is primarily interested in removing illegal registrants from the rolls, she said her members will mainly watch poll workers to make sure they properly distribute, collect and store ballots.

"We're not issuing challenges unless it's really blatant," Kelley said, citing one example as someone bold enough to be spotted voting twice.

Kelley's group already has filed a challenge questioning the status of 76 Hillsborough voters who she claimed are illegally registered because they are felons. Kelley sent the list to the Hillsborough County supervisor of elections, which then sent it to the Florida Division of Elections. Yet the people on the list don't know their rights are being challenged because they haven't been notified.

They will learn of the challenge only when they go vote. Then, according to Florida law, they will be allowed to cast only a provisional ballot, which has a higher rejection rate than regular ballots.

If groups like Tampa Vote Fair seek to limit access to voting, groups like the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law seeks to protect access to the polls.

"We're well aware of Tampa Fair Vote," said Lindenbaum. "We'll be watching them closely."

Lindenbaum's group is leading the Election Protection Coalition, which seeks to provide education to voters so they aren't intimidated from casting a ballot. They will have 300 field lawyers or paralegals visit large minority precincts throughout Florida.

They will be joined by groups like the SEIU Florida State Council, the governing arm of the labor union, which will have 230 field organizers, and the Florida Coalition on Black Civic Participation, which will have 200 people. Their main concern is that voters will feel comfortable enough to vote.

"I hope this is a smooth election day, that our phones will be quiet," said Lindenbaum. "Unfortunately, I don't know if that's going to happen."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or mvansickler@tampabay.com

Early voting

Early voting continues through Saturday. To find the hours and locations for your county, go to links.tampabay.com.

Know Your Candidates

Whether you vote at the polls on Nov. 6 or cast an early ballot, our voter's guide is here to help you make an informed decision. Go to tampabay.com/kyc.

Early voting

Early voting continues through Saturday. To find the hours and locations your county, go to links.tampabay.com.

Know Your Candidates

Whether you vote at the polls on Nov. 6 or cast an early ballot, our voter's guide is here to help you make an informed decision. Go to tampabay.com/kyc.

As Election Day nears, groups brace for a showdown at the polls 10/31/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 2, 2012 10:23am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Man charged with threatening Florida lawmaker on Facebook

    Blogs

    From The Associated Press:

    MIAMI — A Florida man has been charged with threatening to kill a state legislator in a Facebook post. 

    This booking photo released by the Miami-Dade Police Department shows Steve St. Felix, who has been charged with threatening to kill Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in a Facebook post.
  2. Joe Maddon: What my time in Tampa Bay meant, and still means, to me

    The Heater

    Editor's note: The Rays next week in Chicago will meet up for the first time with former manager Joe Maddon, who is in his third year leading the Cubs after nine with the Rays. In advance of the Tuesday-Wednesday series, we asked Maddon to share his thoughts in a column on what his time in Tampa Bay meant to …

    Joe Maddon waits to greet B.J. Upton after Upton's home run in Game 2 of the ALCS in 2008 at Tropicana Field. [Times files (2008)]
  3. First WannaCry, now cyberattack Petya spreads from Russia to Britain

    Business

    Computer systems from Russia to Britain were victims of an international cyberattack Tuesday in a hack that bore similarities to a recent one that crippled tens of thousands of machines worldwide.

    A computer screen cyberattack warning notice reportedly holding computer files to ransom, as part of a massive international cyberattack, at an office in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday.  A new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software appears to be causing mass disruption across Europe.
[Oleg Reshetnyak via AP]
  4. Pinellas sheriff's corporal had racist, sexist, pornographic content on his cell phone

    Public Safety

    LARGO — A Pinellas County sheriff's corporal resigned recently after an investigation into an alleged extramarital affair revealed a trove of racist, sexist and pornographic images on his personal cell phone.

    Shawn Pappas, 46, resigned as a training division corporal from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office after an investigation revealed a trove of offensive images and videos on his phone. This photo was taken as a screenshot from one of the videos released by the Sheriff's Office that Pappas filmed while on duty. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine reflects on the news from the Congressional Budget Office analysis that could imperil GOP leaders' hopes of pushing their health care the plan through the chamber this week, Tuesday, on Capitol Hill in Washington. [AP photo]