Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Election security to protect against terrorism, miscounting

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Unprecedented efforts are being made to monitor the casting and counting of ballots in Ohio on Nov. 2 because of concerns about terrorism and potential election malfunctions.

Law enforcement agencies in many counties are planning additional security on Election Day.

The campaigns of President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry will have teams of lawyers watching the process.

Other groups are recruiting monitors to watch precinct voting locations and county election boards to make sure all eligible voters can cast ballots and votes are counted properly.

"This year, everyone's a little paranoid," said Peg Rosenfield, an election specialist for the Ohio League of Women Voters.

Homeland security chief Tom Ridge has warned that terrorists want to disrupt the election, although no specific threats have been identified.

The additional security at some polling places may not be visible to voters.

In Franklin County, for instance, Sheriff Jim Karnes said that while his department will be providing more security, some deputies will be working in plain clothes.

Some officials are concerned that increased security measures to protect polling locations and secure ballots, especially armed officers, could frighten or intimidate voters and poll workers.

"We're hoping people will feel better knowing the security is there," said Johnda Perkins, director of the Pickaway County Board of Elections.

Perkins is asking for more patrols around polling locations and when ballots are returned to the board.

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has instructed each county elections board to have a disaster-recovery plan in the event of a power outage or other unexpected events.

Democrats and Republicans, both mindful of the legal challenges and disputes arising from the 2000 presidential race in Florida, are arranging for teams of lawyers to watch the balloting.

In hundreds of Ohio voting locations, Kerry attorneys and trained volunteers - wearing distinctive T-shirts designating them as part of the campaign's voter-protection program - will be stationed so pollgoers can turn to them if they run into problems casting a ballot.

"A lot of problems voters encounter when they go to the polls, it's not sinister motivation, it's people not understanding what their rights are," said Jennifer Palmieri, the Kerry campaign's Ohio spokeswoman.

She called the voter protection effort "very sophisticated," describing how Kerry supporters with cell phones at targeted polling places can call national Democratic headquarters, which has a computer program able to track every precinct in the country.

The Bush-Cheney campaign also is recruiting lawyers for each of Ohio's 88 counties.

The Republican Party hasn't organized its own precinct-monitoring effort, but that could change between now and the election if problems surface, a campaign spokesman said.

Other groups also are recruiting election monitors to be on hand in case of questions or problems with voters being able to cast ballots.

The Ohio Voter Protection Project, a coalition of dozens of civic and advocacy groups, is conducting a voter-rights campaign and plans to have volunteers outside Ohio precincts to answer any eligibility questions.

The AFL-CIO also has a campaign called "My Vote, My Right" to educate union members about the voting process and to use members and retirees as poll watchers.

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