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Published: Saturday, 10/23/2004

Ohio GOP to deploy 3,600 for challenges

FROM BLADE WIRE AND STAFF REPORTS

COLUMBUS - Republican Party officials in Ohio took formal steps yesterday to place thousands of recruits inside polling places Nov. 2 to challenge the qualifications of voters who they suspect may not be eligible to cast ballots.

Party officials say their effort is necessary to guard against potential fraud arising from aggressive moves by the Democrats to register tens of thousands of new voters in Ohio, seen as one of the most pivotal battlegrounds in the Nov. 2 elections.

Election officials in other swings states say they are bracing for similar efforts.

Ohio election officials said they had never seen so large a drive to prepare for voter challenges. They said they were scrambling to be ready for possible disruptions in the voting process as well as alarm and complaints among voters. Some officials said they worried that the challenges could discourage or frighten some waiting to vote.

Ohio Democrats were struggling to match the Republicans' move. Both parties had until 4 p.m. to register people to monitor the election. Republicans said they had enlisted 3,600 by the deadline, many in heavily Democratic urban neighborhoods of Cleveland, Dayton, and other cities. Each recruit was to be paid $100. The Democrats, who tend to benefit more than Republicans from large turnouts, said they had registered more than 2,000 recruits to try to protect legitimate voters.

Republican officials said they had no intention of disrupting voting. But they said they were concerned about the possibility of voting fraud involving thousands of newly registered Democrats.

"The organized left's efforts to 'register' voters ... have created these problems," said James P. Trakas, the Republican chairman in Cuyahoga County.

Ohio election officials said that by state law, the parties' challengers would have to show "reasonable" justification for doubting the qualifications of a voter before asking a poll worker to question that person. And, the officials said, challenges could be made on four main grounds: whether the voter is a citizen, is at least 18 years old, is a resident of the county, and has resided in Ohio for the previous 30 days.

GOP challenges in Ohio have already begun. Yesterday, party officials submitted a list of about 35,000 registered Ohio voters whose mailing addresses, the Republicans said, are questionable. After registering, they said, each of the voters was mailed a notice and in each case the notice was returned as undeliverable.

Yesterday's challenges stretch across 65 of Ohio's 88 counties.

Earlier this week, the Lucas County Board of Elections said it was bracing for a wave of challenges against thousands of registered voters that could keep them from casting ballots in the presidential election.

As many as 4,000 voters in Lucas County may be targeted for removal from the list of qualified voters because the board found residential addresses on their registrations incorrect.

Republicans blamed "so-called '527' Democratic front groups" like America Coming Together for the challenged registrations. The designation refers to independent soft-money political groups registered under section 527 of the IRS tax code.

"It's clear there's been a systematic effort by these Democrat '527' fund groups to undermine the Ohio election process," said Jeff Flint, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party.

David Sullivan, voter protection coordinator for the Ohio Democratic Party, called the latest challenges an "unprecedented effort to throw tens of thousands of voters off of Ohio's voting rolls."

"Returned mail or failure to vote in previous elections is not in fact proof," Mr. Sullivan said in a prepared statement.



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