Originally created 11/05/02

Lawyers to keep eyes on polls



ATLANTA - Today's voting will be closely watched, not only by the pundits but also by teams of lawyers.

The controversy during the previous} election in Florida has put political parties and interest groups on guard. Officials changed the laws, the voting machines and some procedures.

Despite the stated aims of the reforms, politicos on both sides fear that abuses could prevent all their votes from being counted. Republicans worry that the process could be so lax that even unregistered Democrats could be allowed to vote. The Democrats, though, suspect that efforts to stop voting fraud could be so aggressive that their supporters leave in disgust.

To prevent hanky-panky, both parties have recruited dozens of volunteer lawyers and trained hundreds of poll watchers.

"Some people have the impression that fraud is something that went out of fashion with the old machines. That would not be realistic," said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University.

For example, Georgia's new computerized voting machines include features that aid the blind or paralyzed so voters can have privacy in the booth.

Federal law allows handicapped voters - including those who can't read English - to pick nearly anyone to help. And that aide can help an unlimited number of people, said Chris Riggall, spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox. Now, federal investigators are wary.

"If you've got a system that is designed to obviate the need for voter assistance and you've got situations where there are reports of voting assistance going on, then that might be a situation that would merit investigation," said Bill Toliver, a district elections officer with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta.

The U.S. attorney's offices in Georgia are posting staffers at courthouses around the state to record complaints for investigation after today.

Today will be the first time so-called provisional voting has been legal. If a voter doesn't have identification or isn't listed as registered, a paper ballot can be cast and sealed. Local officials have two days to check and count each provisional ballot that turns out to be valid.

Republicans plan to have volunteers to assure there was an actual voter for each provisional ballot counted.

"That is the most difficult kind of voter fraud for us to uncover," said Randy Evans, general counsel for the Georgia Republican Party.

Another group will be on hand to assure that the watchdogs don't scare away voters.

"We are much more concerned with the intimidation," said Felicia Davis, the Georgia coordinator with the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

"Some people have the impression that fraud is something that went out of fashion with the old machines. That would not be realistic."

- John Dinan, political science professor at Wake Forest University, on watching the polls for voting fraud

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424 or waltermns@mindspring.com.