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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Lawyers fan out for US mid-term elections
Ryan Olden at 3:16 PM ET

[JURIST] Thousands of lawyers working for political parties, government and interest groups are preparing to go into action across the United States Tuesday when Americans vote in mid-term elections. At stake is control of Congress [NYT backgrounder] and a series of key state ballot initiatives [Stateline.org list, PDF] on hot-button legal and political issues. In the wake of the notorious 2000 presidential recount [JURIST archive] and legal problems in states like Ohio in the 2004 election, participants and observers are prepared for almost anything and are laying the groundwork for possible challenges before voters even go to the polls. On Saturday and Sunday some 7,000 lawyers retained by the Democratic National Committee [party website] are fanning out to 18 key states; on Monday, the Republican National Committee [party website] is dispatching about 150 lawyers to help local counsel in states like Florida, Michigan, Tennessee and Missouri.

Legal problems may be most pronounced in Arizona, Indiana, Georgia, and Missouri [JURIST reports], where controversial new voter ID laws [JURIST news archive] have already been the subject of significant litigation focusing on the dangers of potential disenfranchisement. The US Election Assistance Commission [official website] issued a report [JURIST report] in October arguing that concerns of electoral fraud that drove the passage of these laws were greatly exaggerated.

The dispersal of voting machines [Diebold Election Systems website] under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 [PDF text; FEC overview] has also compounded the potential for post-electoral legal wrangling. Reports are already coming in from Texas and Virginia that candidate names have been cut off. In Texas, Florida, and South Carolina, officials have received reports of touch screens registering votes for the wrong candidate. With few if any paper records of votes that can be checked after the fact, concerns about technical malfunctions are running high.

In addition to lawyers deployed by the main political parties themselves, the US Department of Justice [official website] plans to send 800 lawyers to 65 cities, and the NAACP [advocacy website], Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law [advocacy website], and the People for the American Way [official website] have together amassed about 2,000 lawyers to work in 20 states. The New York Times has more.

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