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Saturday, February 10, 2007

GOP Endorsements: 'Poll Watchers' In Cincinnati

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- In the waning days of the 2004 presidential race, Ohio Republicans moved to place about 3,600 poll watchers in largely Democratic and African American precincts. Now, three people who supported the poll watchers and intervened in a court fight so they could remain on duty have received the Republican Party's endorsement to run for office in Cincinnati.

The use of poll watchers, or partisan "challengers," was a controversial tactic in the 2004 contest. The GOP recruits -- many of them lawyers -- were intended to monitor the eligibility of voters on Election Day. They were to selectively challenge people in the targeted areas, mostly urban neighborhoods containing most of the state's black population. It was a maneuver to ensure Ohio remained a Red State in President Bush's column. But opponents saw it as gussied up racial profiling. Even former Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell -- an elected official many Democrats berated for his handling of elections -- publicly recoiled from his party's plan to put challengers in the polls. Blackwell would not defend it.

The Republican plan triggered an uproar, and a federal voting rights lawsuit by Marian Spencer, a former NAACP leader and Cincinnati City Council member who said the poll watchers revived the Jim Crow era of southern segregation. Spencer's lawsuit contended the poll watchers were being assigned to suppress the black vote.

On the other side were Sam Malone, Charles Winburn and Pat Fischer, now the president of the Cincinnati Bar Association. Lawyer Fischer represented Malone and Winburn, who obtained an emergency stay of an injunction that prohibited the use of poll watchers. Last week, the Hamilton County GOP endorsed Fischer, Malone and Winburn as candidates for Cincinnati City Council. Some might ask: Is that an open slap at the city's black community?
Try to stop them from voting, then ask for their votes?

A court filing from the poll watchers lawsuit is HERE , and it specifies the roles that Malone, Winburn and Fischer played in the case. Fischer's law firm has a short synopsis of its activities in support of poll watchers
HERE. A canny Democratic candidate or activist might even capture the page from the law firm's portal -- it points out that they got permission to keep the poll watchers on duty "just before the polls were scheduled to open."

A dissent written by Circuit Judge R. Guy Cole Jr. summarizes the 2004 litigation and the stakes of the dispute. He called it a "matter of historic proportions" and saw a threat of voter intimidation:

"In this appeal, partisan challengers for the first time since the civil rights era seek to target precincts that have a majority African-American population, and without any legal standards or restrictions, challenge the voter qualifications of people as they stand waiting to exercise their fundamental right to vote."

Cole's dissent is HERE. The betting here is that the GOP's candidates will be attacked for their past efforts in such a volatile area. Blackwell's replacement, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, is a Democrat who might lead the charge. She has promised to open up the electoral process, playing off suspicions it was rigged. Inquiring minds want to know: Did the GOP just make her case in Cincinnati?

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