Mo. lawyers ready for Election Day

Both parties will be prepared to challenge unfair practices at polling places on Tuesday.
Monday, November 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:35 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

KANSAS CITY — Squads of lawyers will be positioned at polling places across Missouri on Tuesday as part of a national effort to protect the integrity of the elections.

And no matter whose side they’re on, they’re ready to go to court if they have evidence that voters’ rights have been abridged.

Lawyers for both parties have sharpened their election-law knowledge and prepared arguments for scenarios they hope to avoid.

As a backstop, Election Protection, a group aligned with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, will have hundreds of yellow-vested monitors throughout Kansas City watching for misbehavior by both parties.

Showdowns are possible in St. Louis, where Republicans were expected to send representatives to challenge voters in predominantly black, heavily Democratic neighborhoods.

Republicans say they don’t intend to suppress votes but — like Democrats — will monitor hot spots throughout Missouri to keep the election clean.

“I think it’s probably going to go pretty well, because everything’s being watched so closely,” said Buford Farrington, an Independence lawyer involved in local Republican preparations for the vote.

Both parties will have “challengers” at polling places Tuesday, ready to exercise the right under state law to raise a challenge — without evidence — if they believe someone is voting illegally.

In those instances, election judges ultimately decide whether the vote was valid. All polling places are staffed by equal numbers of Democratic and Republican judges.

At Kansas City’s busiest polling sites, about 200 trained volunteers from Election Protection will be visible in their yellow vests, ready to help voters with problems.

Doug Bonney, an attorney with the Kansas City Voters Rights Coalition, said the volunteers were prepared to help elderly and disabled voters, those voters who are told they are not on the rolls or are at the wrong polling place, and those who encounter polls that open late or close early.

In addition, legal experts will be on standby to clarify people’s rights, he said.

Bonney appeared at a news conference Saturday where civil rights and labor leaders urged people not to be intimidated into staying away from the polls because of misinformation about their voting rights.

Anita Russell, president of the Kansas City branch of the NAACP, said unidentified callers have been telling residents they can’t vote if they have outstanding traffic tickets, unpaid utility bills or certain other problems.

“We have a lot of first-time voters, and our concern is they not be intimidated or deterred from going to the polls because of calls they received,” Russell said.

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