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Both sides claim poll irregularities

By DEE ANN DIVIS and NICHOLAS M. HORROCK   |   Nov. 6, 2002 at 1:06 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- With polls closed across the continental United States, the Arkansas Supreme Court moved late Tuesday to void a lower court decision allowing late ballots -- one of a growing number of battles over alleged voting irregularities, mostly focused on limiting voting in key districts.

Other states with possible problems included Minnesota where late voters were allegedly turned away improperly; Maryland where signs misleading voters on voting rules were posted; and Pennsylvania where a Republican pamphlet was reportedly issued urging voter challenges based on old rules.

The Arkansas Democratic Party Tuesday won a court order to keep the polls open an extra two hours, alleging that voters were facing long lines and that some polling places in the Little Rock area were out of ballots when voters arrived.

That decision was voided by the state's Supreme Court later in the evening leaving the ballots cast after 7:30 p.m. to be uncounted according to a Republican official.

"Our attorneys tell me that the Supreme Court voided the lower court decision," Marty Ryall, chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas told United Press International. "So it's not even overturning it -- it's voiding it, like it never existed. We had poll workers at 7:30 challenging anyone who was not in line by 7:30 in as many locations as we could get to so those ballots were set aside as challenged ballots -- those will not be counted."

"The bottom line is that we respect the decision of the Supreme Court," said Adrianne Elrod, communications director of the Arkansas State Democratic Party. "We feel we were right to stand up for voters, this wasn't a partisan or party issue, it was about upholding our constitutional rights."

But she left the door open to further legal challenge, saying, "We aren't sure what action we might take now, if any."

The rights of late voters were also at issue in Minnesota, where those in line at polling places were wrongly being told it was too late to vote, according to Democratic National Committee Communications Director Maria Cardona.

"People were being turned away," said Cardona. "They were in line and they were told they were not going to be allowed to vote because the polls were closing. When in fact if you are in line by the time the polls close, by law you have to be allowed to vote."

The state is in the midst of a neck-and-neck Senate race between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Walter Mondale. Mondale recently stepped in to take the place of incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone who died in a plane crash last month.

Cardona said that lawyers are "on the ground" to address the issue.

"I can't believe that would be true. We have a long tradition in Minnesota of letting people who are in line vote," said Tony Sutton, ballot security coordinator for the state Republican Party. "The polls close here at 8, but people in line are allowed to vote. If you are still in line at 8 o'clock, you are allowed to vote," he said.

In St. Paul, Minn., Democrats and independents charged Republicans sent automated calls to Democrats' homes claiming to be "Democrats for Norm Coleman," and urging them to join other Democrats in voting for Norm Coleman. According to a transcript provided by the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, the call went as follows:

"Hello. I am calling with the Democrats for Norm Coleman. We know Norm Coleman is honorable, fair and honest. He is a different kind of leader. Please join me and Democrats all over Minnesota in voting for Norm Coleman. A positive leader for our future. Thank you."

"In addition to being completely misleading, these are automated calls, and therefore illegal," said state party Chairman Mike Erlandson in a press release. "With the loss of our senator, people are confused enough about the voting process. Republicans are exploiting this confusion for their own gain," he added, noting that nowhere in the message did the caller identify Norm Coleman as a Republican.

"This kind of dirty trick works to disenfranchise Minnesota voters by capitalizing on such confusion," said Erlandson.

In Maryland, David Paulson, the director of communications for the state Democratic Party, charged that signs saying voters needed photo identification to vote had been "illegally" or "extra-legally" placed by the Board of Elections in Prince George's County, just outside of Washington. Photo identification has never been required for voters there, he said.

He also said that the Republican candidate for governor, Bob Ehrlich, had hired busloads of homeless men and women from a shelter in Washington and paid them $100 to hand out literature. He said that it is illegal under Maryland law to pay workers at the polls to advocate for the candidates. Paulson said that Ehrlich was doing this because he had difficulty in recruiting workers.

When asked about the charge, Shareese Delever, a spokesman for Ehrlich's campaign, said she knew nothing about it. "Until I find out more information, I can just assume it's another fabrication of the opposition," she said.

Paul Ellington of the Maryland Republican Party said that the alleged violations were not done by the state party.

Misinformation was also at the core of allegations in Pennsylvania. Democrats in the state are concerned about Operation Swarm and Storm -- the name they say was given to an effort by the George Gekas campaign to challenge voters based on old information.

A pamphlet was allegedly prepared by the campaign, which instructed Republican poll workers to challenge voters who had recently moved to new districts. The laws had been changed, however, and such challenges could have been wrongly made.

Voters in some districts were also challenged to produce identification, charged state Democratic Party spokeswoman Mia DeVane. Voters she said need only provide a matching signature to vote in the state.

Several calls to both the Gekas campaign and the state Republican Party were not returned.

After the voting problems of 2000, both parties said they anticipated difficulties at the polls and fraud. The Department of Justice trained some 300 FBI and Justice Department officials "to prevent elections fraud and bring violators to justice." The Justice teams were expected to be on duty on Election Day.

Democrats, however, have charged that many attempts to get identity cards and other steps to avoid wrongful votes are thinly disguised efforts to keep minorities and newly arrived citizens from the polls.

--

(Laura M. Segal contributed to this story.)

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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