While Election Day is still a few days away, lawyers for the Democratic and Republican Parties have already begun filing lawsuits. The presidential election four years ago was finally decided by a legal ruling involving votes in the southern state of Florida…and neither political party wants to lose a court case and an election. Paul Miller has more on the role of lawyers on this legal battleground.
"If this election is truly close and comes down to a few voters in a single state or a handful of states, 2000 will look like a Sunday picnic in the park."
Presidential historian Alan Lichtman knows that the aftermath of the 2000 election in Florida -- 36 days of recounts, lawsuits and suspense -- was anything but a picnic.
Now there's another election in Florida, and another legal controversy. Even though this is just the early voting prior to Election Day, the Democratic Party has filed lawsuits saying there aren't enough polling places open enough hours. The Republican Party has filed a suit accusing the Democrats of breaking the law in their get-out-the-vote effort. And both sides have lots of lawyers, such as this woman in Florida, who have volunteered to watch the voting:
"I'm just trying to ensure that everyone's right to vote is protected."
Nationally the political parties have trained an estimated 20,000 lawyers to serve as poll monitors. They also have special teams to fly to places where voting problems occur, and more lawyers to argue cases in courts. Doug Chapin, director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Electionline.org, says lawyers are a fact of life in modern American politics.
"Lawyers will certainly have a big role in this election, if for no other reason than they will keep the process honest on Election Day. It's hard to predict whether or not lawyers or judges determine the outcome of the election."
It won't be for lack of trying. In Ohio and many other states there has been a huge increase in the number of people registering to vote. Some of the registrations are fraudulent. Republican Party lawyers want to make sure people who register are required to provide their real names, actual addresses and other accurate information.
Bob Bennett is the Republican Party chairman in that state.
"If a single case of fraud presents itself at the ballot box, every good, honest, hard working Ohio voter will be disenfranchised. Yet Democrats are conveniently silent. Rather than standing up and condemning this activity, they have engaged in an unprecedented level of litigation."
The Democratic Party filed suits claiming that legitimate voters are being denied the right to vote, in some cases simply because they have moved to another part of the state since they registered. Denny White chairs Ohio's Democratic Party.
"We shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water because you have a few isolated situations. I mean, you have a half million new registered voters in this state and as an Ohioan I'm very proud about that. I think it's good for the political process."
A Federal court has now ruled the Ohio Secretary of State, a Republican Party member, was correct in requiring people to vote where they register. Alan Lichtman, who is a professor at American University in Washington D.C., says the legal actions so far may be a preview of things to come.
"Both sides are now prepared to wage total legal warfare against one another".
There are three areas that could lead to more lawsuits.
The first is provisional ballots, where people whose names don't turn up on registration rolls are allowed to vote pending verification of their right to do so. Congress approved provisional ballots as part of the Help America Vote Act two years ago. Their use is being worked out by state officials and the courts.
The second problem area is identification requirements when people show up to vote; Identification challenges are seen by Republicans as a safeguard against fraud and by Democrats as a means of keeping the poor and minority group members from being allowed to vote.
The third and likely biggest legal issue may be the voting machines -- vote totals may be challenged because of technical problems or a lack of back-up records from electronic and optical machines. Recounts and legal challenges could delay certification of the final election results.
By the time the legal challenges are exhausted and the election is certified, many American voters may agree with a character in Shakespeare's play "Henry VI", who said, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."