Kerry Building Legal Network for Vote Fights
Mindful of the election problems in Florida four years ago, aides to Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, say his campaign is putting together a far more intricate set of legal safeguards than any presidential candidate before him to monitor the election. Aides to Mr. Kerry say the campaign is taking the unusual step of setting up a nationwide legal network under its own umbrella, rather than relying, as in the past, on lawyers associated with state Democratic parties. The aides said they were recruiting people based on their skills as litigators and election lawyers, rather than rewarding political connections or big donors.
Lawyers for the campaign are gathering intelligence and preparing litigation over the ballot machines being used and the rules concerning how voters will be registered or their votes disqualified. In some cases, the lawyers are compiling dossiers on the people involved and their track records on enforcing voting rights. The disputed 2000 presidential election remains a fresh wound for Democrats, and Mr. Kerry has been referring to it on the stump while assuring his audiences that he will not let this year’s election be a repeat of the 2000 vote. “A million African-Americans disenfranchised in the last election,” he said at the N.A.A.C.P. convention in Philadelphia on Thursday. “Well, we’re not just going to sit there and wait for it to happen. On Election Day in your cities, my campaign will provide teams of election observers and lawyers to monitor elections, and we will enforce the law.”
The Kerry campaign’s legal efforts are hardly occurring in a vacuum. The Bush-Cheney campaign says it will have party lawyers in every state, covering 30,000 precincts. An affiliated group, the Republican National Lawyers Association, held a two-day training session in Milwaukee over the weekend on “how to promote ballot access to all qualified voters,” according to the group’s Web site.
Lawyers for nonpartisan advocacy groups conducting voter registration drives are also working behind the scenes and in court to ensure that their new registrants make it onto the rolls and that their ballots are counted.
But it is the campaign of Mr. Kerry that appears to be doing the most to apply lessons from the Florida recount and that is adopting the more fiercely partisan posture in the early going. Its plans include setting up SWAT teams of specially trained lawyers, spokesmen and political experts to swoop into any state where a recount could be needed. “The U.S. has had a policy of being able to fight two regional conflicts and still defend the homeland,” said Marc E. Elias, the Kerry campaign’s general counsel. “We want to be able to fight five statewide recounts and still have resources available to the campaign.”
The Democrats seemed to have learned the lessons of 2000 well: If you win, fine. If you lose, claim fraud. Litigate everything. If you still lose, claim that the opponent’s win is illegitimate and use that as a basis for fundraising until the next time.