New York Lawyers Eyeing Voting Efforts in Swing States

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New York is known as an export state when it comes to presidential politics – exporting money, that is.  But there's another resource that New York has in plentiful supply – lawyers.  With New York considered safely in the Democratic column next month, thousands of New York lawyers are planning trips to swing states to monitor what happens at the ballot box.  WNYC's Andrea Bernstein has more.

In Washington DC , yesterday, Democrats marshaled a phalanx of lawyers to unveil what they're calling “promote and protect the vote” efforts for the 2004 election. 

Brazile: because we're not going to allow any voter to be turned away from the polls this fall.

Donna Brazile is chairing the effort.  She maintains one million voters were turned away on election day 2000, and that's changed the way Democrats view election day activities.

Brazile: We must not only concentrate on turning out the most votes, but we must also protect people's right to participate in the electoral process.

Brazile says the party will have thousands of lawyers montoring polling sites in swing states on election day.  A sizeable chunk of those volunteers will be coming from New York . 

The other day attorney Henry Berger held an early-morning training session for about 100 lawyers at a midtown law firm.  Berger has been organizing poll watching operations for New York political campaigns for a decade. Last summer, weary of seeing New Yorkers just send money, Berger says he approached the Kerry campaign.

Berger: And I asked why we couldn't export our other assets to help in battleground states.

Berger says the lawyers won't be actually practicing law , but because of their legal training, they're quick studies when it comes to monitoring whether local laws are being followed – and thus can effectively act as poll watchers.  He says so far more than a thousand lawyers have agreed to spend four days in swing states, buying their own plane tickets and accommodations, and taking time off work. Ron Wasserman is one of them.

Wasserman: I don't want to feel afterwards that I didn't do something. I want to be able to tell my kids that I did something

Bernstein: Have you ever something like this before?

Wasserman: No. No.

Democrats aren't the only ones organizing lawyers on election day.  The Bush Cheney campaign's counsel held a training for about hundred lawyers during the Republican National Convention.   If Democrats want to defend the right to vote once, Republicans say they need to defend against citizens voting twice.  Attorney Ed Cox hosted the GOP meeting here.  He says that voter fraud has gone on for 100 years, at least – since the time his grandfather was the organizer of the “honest ballot campaign,” when he had to convince skeptics that democrats were committing vote fraud.

Cox: So he would take them in his car on election day and he would show them the gangs of voters going from precinct to precinct voting early and often.  

Cox says 2000 wasn't the only time in recent history that election results were disputed.   Cox, who is Richard Nixon's son in law, remembers election night, 1968.

Cox: I was in the Pierre Hotel here and Trish and I were there with Julie and David and we were watching the voting come in and the election went well into the next day and the main issue was there were no results coming out of Illinois .

Republicans believe Democrats in Illinois were trying to manipulate vote totals in a national election.  But Democrats say THEY'VE been the victims, most recently, of voter suppression efforts.  At a  3-hour training at Columbia University , Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Attorney Jonah Goldman briefed hundreds of lawyers preparing to go to Pennsylvania . He described a recent Mayoral election in that state.

Goldman: In the black precincts in North and West Philly there were big Suburban SUVs driving around with official insignia on them with guys in suits and ties going up to voters and telling them they need id and giving them false information that is evidence of an intimidation program.

Goldman says in 2000, Democrats weren't ready for that kind of thing.  They were prepared for legal battles, not to solve problems on election day. Law student Jeffrey Penn says that's why he'll be in Pennsylvania November 2

Penn: There was sort of a half hearted effort by congress and other government forces to redress the problems of 2000 it didn't really work so it seems like if people want to preserve the integrity of the voting process its incumbent on the people to do it rather than the institutions.

Even then, the law work may not be over.  Both Republicans, Democrats, and their allies are preparing swat teams, to prepare for expected litigation that will come AFTER election day.   For WNYC, I'm Andrea Bernstein.

» More on Beth Fertig's report on New Yorkers involvement in swing states