WASHINGTON – You may be alone when you step into the voting booth on Election Day, but there will still be thousands of people watching over your shoulder.
Attorneys for the government, political parties and other groups will be monitoring the voting process closely this year to protect against voter fraud, voter intimidation and possibly to ready challenges in close races.
It’s a trend that began with the Bush-Gore cliffhanger in 2000, according to an expert at one Washington think tank, who is not sure it’s a good thing.
“I don’t believe that it helps with public confidence in the election process when you have more and more litigation,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
But others said lawyers need to be on call to help protect the vote.
Civil rights attorneys are “making sure we have voters’ backs,” said Myrna Perez, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.
In Arizona, both major political parties said they plan to have attorneys inside and outside polling sites, in addition to those waiting by the phone.
Arizona’s Democratic Party has about 150 lawyers and legal volunteers who will be part of the “election protection team,” said Joaquin Rios, a party official. Attorneys will also be on hand to file lawsuits if poll watchers find any issues, he said.
“We want to make sure that everyone who has the right is fully able to exercise the right to vote free of intimidation and confusion,” Rios said.
Arizona Republican Party spokesman Tim Sifert said lawyers will be available in Phoenix and in Washington, D.C., on a special hotline reserved just for party attorneys and other trained legal volunteers who will be poll-watching across Arizona.
He did not rule out the possibility of same-day litigation, but said Republicans are not “specifically suspicious” of anything at the moment.
“We will be prepared to do what it takes to ensure that the election is conducted properly and validly,” Sifert said.
But the election litigation has already started elsewhere.
Florida Democrats filed suit in federal court this weekend after Gov. Rick Scott refused to extend early voting hours, despite long lines at polling places that forced some voters to wait five hours or more to cast a ballot.
In Ohio, a Green Party congressional candidate sued the Ohio secretary of state alleging, among other things, that voting tabulation software could let people tamper with the results.
Von Spakovsky said that the increasing number of election-related lawsuits makes people question the value of their vote.
He said lawyers might contest the outcome of the election, especially if the number of provisional ballots issued in a particular state exceeds the margin of victory there, similar to what happened in the 2000 Florida election.
“You may get contentious fight over every single provisional ballot,” he said.
But members of Election Protection, a national coalition of civil rights groups that includes the Brennan Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, say they are just making sure voters can cast ballots without intimidation.
As part of its non-partisan efforts, Election Protection lawyers will be on the ground monitoring and assisting voters as well as staffing call centers in non-partisan capacity for voters with questions, Perez said.
She said lawyers also worked on voter education in the months before the election because “it is critically important to that voters go to the polls.” Their efforts are nothing new, though “there is always an increased need because every election has its own challenges and difficulties,” Perez said.
And lawyers will be ready to respond in this election, she said.
“There are literally thousands of us out there watching,” Perez said.