Democrats sue over alleged GOP poll stacking

Attorneys Benedict P. Kuehne, left, Alan G. Greer, center, and Joseph S. Geller, right, look over the paperwork, at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2002, in Miami. The three attorneys filed a lawsuit aimed at preventing Republicans from stacking polling sites in Miami-Dade with hand-picked poll watchers.

The Associated Press
Published: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 12:55 a.m.
MIAMI - A group of Democrats led by former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek sued on Thursday to prevent Republicans from stacking polling sites in Miami-Dade County with hand-picked poll watchers.
A judge set an emergency hearing for today to consider whether Republicans and a political action committee called the Emergency Committee to Stop Bill McBride gained an unfair advantage in assigning poll watchers for Tuesday's elections.
In the complaint, the Democrats said local GOP officials learned of new rules that were based on an advisory opinion issued by the Florida secretary of state's office on Oct. 17.
The new rules allowed them to easily submit lists of names of poll watchers. Under the old rules, parties and candidates were required to provide specific information about the site where the poll watcher would work and required a signature from each potential worker.
Democrats said they learned about the change after the deadline to submit the forms.
As a result, the plaintiffs said the Miami-Dade Elections office accepted hundreds of Republican poll watchers designated under less restrictive rules, giving the GOP an unfair advantage.
"They're playing by two different sets of rules," said Alan Greer, an attorney for Reno.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said Democrats, operating under the old rules, had signed about 145 poll watchers. They estimated that Republican party officials had signed hundreds more under the new rules.
The committee opposing McBride said in a posting on its Web site on Thursday that it had submitted 456 signed poll watcher forms with the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections.
State law allows each political party and candidate to have one watcher in each polling room at any one time during the election. Poll watchers can challenge the eligibility of voters.
The plaintiffs want the judge to either reject all the poll watchers not submitted in accordance with state law or allow Democrats to submit names under the same rules. Democrats also want the court to prevent the committee from submitting their own poll watchers.
State Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas said he had not read the complaint but the description of the request indicated a lack of diligence by Democrats.
"The Democrats are always a day late and a dollar short. Their recourse for not being diligent is to file a lawsuit alleging unfairness," Cardenas said.
Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections David Leahy said the county would take a neutral position on the case and abide by the court's ruling.
"We basically follow the rules as the rules are developed. They're not our rules, they're the state's rules," Leahy said.
The complaint also alleges that "Republicans are attempting to bring in scores, perhaps hundreds, of personnel from across the country to barrage polling places, much as out-of-towners swarmed the recount canvassing chambers in November 2000."
The plaintiffs said the vehicle for the activity is the political action committee opposing McBride, citing recent press releases from the group indicating that they would target major Democratic precincts in the county.
Democrats argue that state law prevents the committee from listing names. Leahy said a 1986 state division of elections opinion allows poll watchers to be supplied from political action committees.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the tactics could lead to voting disruptions.
"We are extremely concerned that the illegal, disruptive tactics that were employed last time are going to be used in an attempt to intimidate voters and prevent them from casting their votes," said Joe Geller, an attorney for the plaintiffs. "That is a real concern."
Michael Mita, the chairman of the PAC, did not immediately return a phone message.
The PAC said in the press releases that it is being run by the same conservative activists who formed Americans for Jeb Bush, a group that targeted Reno during the primary. The group later disbanded.
The plaintiffs include Reno, Meek, state Rep. Phillip Brutus, Yolly Roberson, a candidate for state representative, and the Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee.
The defendants include Leahy, the Miami-Dade Republican Executive Committee and the Emergency Committee to Stop Bill McBride.
The hearing was set for 10:30 a.m. today before Judge Eleanor Shockett in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

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