us pres. elections - big problems looming?

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    Fraud, Voter Registration Problems, Electoral College - Colorado Could be Next Florida

    The Associated Press

    Saturday 16 October 2004

    Denver - Colorado could end up writing an ugly sequel to the Florida election nightmare of four years ago.

    County clerks have been swamped with a surge in voter registrations, thousands of felons are on the voter rolls, and there is widespread confusion about how provisional ballots will be counted and voting rules will be enforced. Then there is a measure that would split the state's nine Electoral College votes, potentially holding up the results of the entire presidential race. (Related story: Scary scenarios swirl around '04 election)

    All of this comes in a presidential battleground state that is also deciding a hotly contested campaign that could change the balance of power in the Senate.

    Democratic and Republican officials say they are already assembling teams of lawyers to keep watch at the polls and, if necessary, challenge the results if the battle between President Bush and Democrat John Kerry hinges again on a handful of votes.

    "Unless we get a handle on some of these things, Colorado could be even worse than Florida," said Democrat Mike Feeley, whose race for Congress two years ago went undecided for several weeks while the parties fought in court over how to count provisional ballots. He lost by 121 votes to Republican Bob Beauprez.

    "I think it's probably inevitable," Feeley said of legal battles. "I hope that's not the case, but everybody's breathing down the secretary of state's neck, everybody's lawyering up and the conditions are right for a number of challenges."

    A huge challenge could be looming if Colorado approves the Electoral College ballot measure. Under the proposal, the state would scrap its winner-take-all system for its nine electoral votes and split them up based on how well the candidates fare in the statewide popular vote.

    For example, if Bush gets 51% of the vote and Kerry 49%, the president would receive five electoral votes and the senator four, which could make a big difference in a tight election year. Opponents have already filed a lawsuit, and more legal challenges could be on the way because the proposal would take effect immediately if approved.

    A poll released Monday found that 44% opposed the plan, 35% supported it and 21% were undecided. The margin of error was 4 percentage points in the poll by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.

    When it comes to the voter rolls, things started getting confusing when counties began seeing a surge in voter registrations. No one is sure how many new voters signed up, but the figure could be well over 100,000.

    Secretary of State Donetta Davidson stunned county clerks by effectively scrapping the Oct. 4 registration deadline after people complained their registration forms had not been turned in by various get-out-the-vote campaigns.

    More problems could result from provisional ballots - essentially backup ballots that are used when voters think they are properly registered but their names do not appear on the rolls.

    People who do not show up on voter rolls will be asked to swear they are eligible to vote in order to get a provisional ballot. The problem? If they aren't on the rolls, election judges cannot confirm whether they are telling the truth.

    Provisional ballots cannot be counted until 12 days after the election, but even that deadline is in question because a lawsuit that kept Ralph Nader on the ballot also delayed the mailing of absentee ballots to military personnel and other residents living overseas.

    At the same time, a Denver judge is considering a lawsuit that could change the way election officials handle provisional ballots.

    Davidson has yet to provide official guidance for 16,000 poll workers, citing the pending ruling in the case that is expected to be appealed. Some counties are not waiting, but discrepancies between their instructions could provide fodder for lawsuits.

    Davidson also has acknowledged that there are about 6,000 felons registered to vote in Colorado. She is updating information from corrections officials to distribute lists to county clerks, who will have to purge their rolls of convicted felons still serving their sentences or out on parole.

    The secretary of state is downplaying the concerns about Florida-like fiasco, but has criticized Attorney General Ken Salazar for keeping her "out of the loop" when it comes to investigating voter fraud.

    Bruce Altschuler, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Oswego, said similar problems are cropping up in every battleground state.

    "The fear or hope, as the case may be, by both parties is this election could turn out to be as close as last time," Altschuler said. "Both sides are leaving no stone unturned in the search for potential voters and the potential for hanky-panky and lawsuits."

    If Colorado ends up close, there is little question the losing side would challenge the results, based on any mistakes that might have been made in preparing for the election or counting votes.

    "It would certainly be my hope that there's no need for any kind of legal action after Election Day," said state Republican Party Chairman Ted Halaby. "We also have to be realistic, and we have the issue of provisional ballots, and we have widespread reports of vast fraudulent registration. It is a cause for concern."

 
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