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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Voter Intimidation Rampant

MIAMI (AP) - Pre-election tension mounted Thursday in Florida amid claims of voter intimidation, promises absentee ballots will reach the Broward County citizens who are missing them and concerns Republicans will question the authenticity of thousands of votes on election day.

Workers at Broward's elections office prepared 1,000 absentee ballots for overnight shipment to Floridians in other states and expected to send up to 14,000 ballots by Friday to residents who requested them weeks ago.

Meanwhile, state Republican leaders said they are protecting "the integrity of the process" by compiling a list of voters who they said are improperly registered and should not be allowed to cast ballots Tuesday.

"I presume they will use it as a basis for challenges," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida.

"And when they're using a list that's very likely inaccurate for challenges, I think we're in for hand-to-hand combat at the precincts."

Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie said he was "disconcerted" by claims supporters of Democratic challenger John Kerry are clogging early voting locations and attempting to dissuade backers of President George W. Bush from voting.

"Some folks have been intimidated to the point where they turned away from the lines," Gillespie alleged.

Democrats dismissed Gillespie's accusation and said Republicans are the ones trying to keep Tuesday's turnout low. They pointed to a series of announcements in recent weeks by the Republican National Committee, calling them "empty fraud allegations" designed to suppress voting.

"Yet again, we're hearing that the Republican party is crying fraud," Kerry campaign spokeswoman Christine Anderson said.

"This is a very clear strategy on their part to lay the groundwork for election day challenges. We have clearly stated that we do not plan to challenge voters on election day and that's a promise they simply can't make."

Republican officials acknowledged names of voters who may be improperly registered have been forwarded to county officials. The list will not be used for challenges, said state Republican adviser Mindy Tucker Fletcher, who added the list is of addresses where the state Republican party sent mail, only to have it returned as undeliverable.

The Broward County absentee ballot issue was murkier than ever.

About 58,000 ballots were mailed Oct. 7 and 8, said county officials, who added many either did not arrive at residents' homes or didn't arrive in a timely way.

Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes said Thursday her office has sent out some 128,000 absentee ballots this year, that 72,000 completed ballots have already been returned and she expects 40,000 more by Tuesday.

Residents who requested ballots but haven't received them are being told to call the election office for replacements by overnight mail. There are concerns, however, the mailing glitch could create confusion with individuals having two ballots or being forced to file provisional ballots on election day.

"I think it was more of a delay than ballots being lost...The extent of the problem is not going to be as great as it may appear," Snipes said.

In Palm Beach County, meanwhile, hundreds of members of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans said they haven't received their absentee ballots.

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