Legions of lawyers, party volunteers, paid activists and even foreign observers will descend on polling places across the country today in what promises to be the most heavily monitored presidential election in U.S. history.

Legions of lawyers, party volunteers, paid activists and even foreign observers will descend on polling places across the country today in what promises to be the most heavily monitored presidential election in U.S. history.

The tens of millions of voters heading to the polls will face new election laws and, in many places, new voting machines — aimed at remedying the problems that produced the bitterly disputed outcome four years ago. But many election officials are worried that some of the changes could instead ensure a repeat in a race as tightly contested as the one between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry.

Duval County officials examine signatures from disqualified ballots in Jacksonville, Fla., as partisan observers monitor the process. Some new voter applications in the state were rejected on a technicality, which Democrats challenged. (Will Dickey — Florida Times-union Via AP)

An army of lawyers from both parties will be manning polls in battleground states, and the legal wrangling over ballot issues continued to rage hours before the polls were to open. In Ohio, the GOP’s plans to mount an aggressive program challenging voters at the polls was upheld by a federal appellate court.

In other battleground states, Democrats have plans to challenge the challengers. Democratic officials in Philadelphia, for example, have threatened to file federal lawsuits against individual poll challengers who violate citizens’ voting rights through harassment or intimidation.

Election officials also are fretting about the impact of provisional ballots, which are used by people whose names do not appear on voter rolls. Such ballots cannot be counted until after Election Day and, for the first time, are being mandated nationwide. Officials and observers also worry about voting machines, whether new and untested or old and problematic.

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