The leaders of the two main U.S. political parties traded accusations of voter disenfranchisement, one of the issues that is taking center stage as the presidential election campaign heads into its final days.
Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie refuted Democratic allegations that his party's decision to pay thousands of people to monitor the polls on election day in the hotly contested state of Ohio is aimed at intimidating voters.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Mr. Gillespie said his party is concerned with possible voter fraud in Ohio. "I will tell you what is going on in Ohio that is a concern. If you look at Franklin County, the center of the state, a very important county in the election, there are 815,000 people, according to a census, 18 (years) or older, eligible to vote. There are 845,000 registered voters," he said.
He said he has heard or read about a host of problems with voter registration. "In Ohio, there was a report yesterday in the paper of a charged terrorist, who was plotting to blow up the Columbus Mall, being registered to vote. We have seen people there registering, filing false registrations in exchange for crack cocaine, people with fictitious characters being registered to vote, Dick Tracy and Mary Poppins. In New Mexico, we have seen 13- and 15-year-olds get registration cards in the mail they did not even ask for. In Nevada, we have had illegal immigrants being registered to vote. In Florida, there are 46,000 voters who are registered to vote in Florida and in New York," he said.
Mr. Gillespie said his party does not want to disenfranchise any voters, but is most concerned that illegitimate votes will cancel out ballots cast legally. "Now, it is important that every vote count. We do not want to see anyone disenfranchised by their rightful vote being denied. But at the same time, we do not want to have people disenfranchised by having their honest vote canceled out by a fraudulent vote," he said.
Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe had a different take on the issue, saying he believes the Republicans are targeting certain groups who traditionally vote Democratic.
"Now, who gets disenfranchised? Predominantly, it is the African-American community, which supports this party 92-percent of the time. It is the Hispanic community that votes for this party 66-percent of the time," he said.
Mr. McAuliffe cited an instance in which he thought the Republicans were trying to directly undermine Democratic voters. "There are two statewide investigations going on right now because of a company that was paid a half-a-million dollars by the Republican National Committee. In Nevada and in Oregon, a young man, a registered Republican, who worked for this company, was told that he would not be paid, and to rip up any voter registration cards for Democrats. We are not going to tolerate it," he said.
Neither of the party leaders gave evidence to support their allegations. But the pointed attacks illustrate the bitterness that remains following the 2000 U.S. presidential election, in which the final results were disputed. Again in this election, the candidates, President Bush, the Republican, and his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry, have been virtually tied in public-opinion polls.
Memories of the 2000 election have galvanized both parties to be prepared this time. Both sides have thousands of lawyers on the ground in states across the country, ready to spring into action should the vote tallies be close.
The Census Bureau says 111 million Americans cast ballots four-years ago. Experts say they expect that number this year will be higher.