Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008 | 2 a.m.
A legion of attorneys and other campaign volunteers will descend on Nevada over the next three weeks to monitor the battleground state’s election, causing the state’s chief elections officer to worry about possible disruptions at polling places.
The campaign of Sen. Barack Obama has “close to 1,000” lawyers prepared to observe polling places beginning with early voting Saturday and running through the Nov. 4 election, campaign spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said.
Sen. John McCain’s Nevada campaign referred questions to the Nevada Republican Party. Zach Moyle, executive director of the state party, said Republicans have “hundreds of attorneys” coming to the state to observe voting.
Challenging individual voters at the polling places would be difficult for campaigns under state law. The presence of so many attorneys points to the grim possibility of a contested election result.
“We’ll have quite a few lawyers in the event of a recount,” Moyle said. “We hope it doesn’t come to that, but if it does, we’ll be ready.”
There are 340 polling locations in Clark County and nearly 100 in Washoe County.
Moyle said trained poll watchers will “make sure no voters are left disenfranchised.” He also said decisions to challenge voters will be made on “a case-by-case basis.”
Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat, said he is concerned that the number of poll observers could become unwieldy, crowding voting sites and causing disruptions. Observers will be required to wear bright orange stickers, he said.
“Obviously, we want to make sure the election is as transparent as possible,” Miller said. “But there are significant concerns ... the number of poll watchers could put considerable strain on the election.”
Miller is talking with the attorney general’s office about whether county election clerks will have the authority to cut off access by observers if they become too numerous or out of control.
Searer, the Obama spokeswoman, said the campaign’s “Voter Protection Program” is intended to make sure the process runs smoothly. “The last thing we want to do is slow down the process,” she said.
Observers will watch to see that voting machines appear to be working, that lines of voters don’t get too long, and that those who show up at the wrong voting location can fill out a provisional ballot, she said.
“We want to protect the right of voters,” she said.
She would not disclose how many polling sites the campaign’s volunteer attorneys plan to monitor on Election Day, other than to say “we are recruiting at least one attorney for each major polling place.”
There has been an increasing focus on the integrity of the election over the past week, since state law enforcement officials, including from the secretary of state’s office, raided the Las Vegas headquarters of a liberal-leaning community group that turned in fraudulent voter registration forms. Leaders of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, said the fraudulent registration forms were flagged by their own quality control process, and were the result of workers’ making up registrations to meet quotas.
Though Republicans are publicly starting to question the validity of voter registration numbers, which are swinging heavily Democratic in Nevada, officials say rarely does anyone show up to vote under a fake name or vote twice.
“I’ve been here 10 years, and there’s never been an allegation of fraudulent voting,” said Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax. He said there are occasions during elections when someone mistakenly votes twice.
Miller said he thinks election watchers will be on the lookout for “overt voter suppression or overt voter fraud.” But, he noted, election observers are not allowed to talk to voters inside polling places or interfere with the election.
Challenging a voter over his identity or residence can be difficult.
The challenger has to be a resident of the precinct in which the voter he is challenging is voting. Additionally, the challenger has to sign an affidavit, under penalty of perjury, that he has “personal knowledge” that someone is fraudulently trying to vote, according state law.