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Context of 'Evening, October 31, 2004: Civil Rights Activists Resume Voter Challenge Dispute in Federal District Court'

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The Republican Party provides Ohio election officials with lists of the people they have recruited to work as “challengers” on election day. According to a 1953 Ohio state law—which critics says is rooted in a blatantly racist 1886 statute that emerged after the Civil War—“challengers” are permitted to challenge the qualifications of voters who they suspect are not eligible to vote. (Moss 10/23/2004; Andrews 11/1/2004) Before a challenger can ask a poll worker to question a voter, it must first be shown that there is “reasonable” justification for doubting a voter’s qualifications. All eligible voters must be citizens, at least 18, a resident of the county and must have lived in Ohio for the previous 30 days. The Republicans’ list includes 3,600 challengers, many of whom will be working in the heavily Democratic urban neighborhoods of Cleveland, Dayton and other cities. For example 1,436 of the Republican challengers will be stationed in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, a Democratic stronghold. The Republicans claim that using challengers is necessary because the Democrats may have fraudulently registered thousands of ineligible voters. The Democrats enlist more than 2,000 recruits as challengers who they hope will protect legitimate voters from being denied their rights by their Republican counterparts. But in some of the most critical counties the Democrats will be grossly outnumbered. For Cuyahoga County, the Democrats will only have 300 challengers. (Moss 10/23/2004) Election officials are concerned about the huge number of challenges that are expected at the polls. “I’m not sure how we’re going to accomplish this,” says John Williams, deputy elections director in Hamilton County. “We’ve never had anything like this before.” Some fear that the challengers intend to reduce voter turnout. “Some observers worry the parties will indiscriminately challenge voters in heavily Democratic or Republican precincts as a strategy to discourage people from voting,” The Columbus Dispatch reports. (Niquette 10/23/2004)

In Cincinnati, Donald and Marian Spencer, elderly African American civil rights activists, go to federal district court to challenge the 1953 Ohio law that permits poll watchers to challenge voters (see 4:00 p.m., October 22, 2004). Critics of the law say it is rooted in a blatantly racist 1886 statute that emerged after the Civil War. The couple is supported in their case by the Democrats. The couple complains that most of the Republican challengers will be deployed in the heavily black precincts in the Cincinnati area in order to suppress minority voters. (Andrews 11/1/2004; Weinstein 11/2/2004) David Maume, a sociologist from the University of Cincinnati, testifies that demographic data show a disproportionate number of Republican challengers would be sent to precincts that are predominantly Africa-American. Maume further explains that perhaps as many as 77 percent of black voters would encounter a challenger on Election Day, compared with 25 percent of white voters. There is “a clear correlation between a voting population that is black and the placement of Republican challengers,” Maume concludes. (Theis 10/31/2004) The court resumes hearing on the case Sunday evening (see Evening, October 31, 2004). (Weinstein 11/2/2004)

Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, a Republican, files a suit in the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals asking for a stay of the court decisions in Akron (See Late October 2004) and Cincinnati (See Evening, October 31, 2004). Petro claims that the two federal judges, one of whom was appointed by George Bush in 2002, are “injecting themselves” into the presidential elections and rewriting Ohio’s election laws. (Sloat 11/2/2004) The court will grant the stay early the following morning (See 1:24 a.m., November 1, 2004).

In Cincinnati, Donald and Marian Spencer, go to federal district court to resume their challenge (see October 29, 2004) of a 1953 Ohio law that permits poll watchers to challenge voters (see 4:00 p.m., October 22, 2004). The couple contends that most of the Republican challengers will be working in the heavily black precincts in the Cincinnati area in order to suppress minority voters. The court decides early Monday morning (see 1:24 a.m., November 1, 2004). (Weinstein 11/2/2004)

In Cincinnati, US District Judge Susan J. Dlott rules on a case brought by Donald and Marian Spencer (see Evening, October 31, 2004), in which the couple challenged the GOP’s plan to deploy challengers to polling sites in Hamilton County (see 4:00 p.m., October 22, 2004). Dlott, appointed by Clinton in 1994, rules against the Republican plan, noting that there is no need to have challengers since Ohio already requires the presence of election judges at precincts in order to avoid voter fraud. “Under Ohio law, each polling place is staffed by four election judges, no more than two of whom can be from a single party,” the Los Angeles Times explains. “One of the four is appointed by each county election board to be the presiding judge, who can rule on challenges to a voter’s qualifications.” Dlott warns in her 18-page decision that the Republican plan, if permitted, could cause “chaos, delay, intimidation and pandemonium inside the polls and in the lines outside the door.” She notes “that 14 percent of new voters in a majority white location will face a challenger… but 97 percent of new voters in a majority African American voting location will see such a challenger.” Dlott says also that the law permitting challengers does not sufficiently protect citizens’ fundamental right to vote. (Andrews 11/1/2004; Niquette 11/1/2004; Weinstein 11/2/2004; Wilkinson and Andrews 11/2/2004) Dlott ruling is very similar to another one that is delivered a few hours later in a similar case in Akron (see Early Morning, November 1, 2004). Commenting on the two rulings, two election law experts, professor Edward Foley of Ohio State University Law School in Columbus and Richard L. Hasen of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, both tell the Los Angeles Times that they consider it significant that the two judges have provided similar rationales for their rulings. “It is quite striking that the reasoning of both judges is the same and they echo one another,” Foley says. (Weinstein 11/2/2004)

The US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturns a ruling made by a federal district court the previous day (See Evening, October 31, 2004) which had barred Republicans from challenging voters at the polls (See 4:00 p.m., October 22, 2004). The appeals court is presided by three judges, two of which were appointed by Republican presidents—Judge John M. Rogers, who was appointed by President Bush in 2002, and Senior Judge James L. Ryan, who was appointed by President Reagan in 1985. Judge Rogers writes in the court’s decision: “Longer lines may, of course, result from delays and confusion when one side in a political controversy employs” challenges “more vigorously than in previous elections,” but “such a possibility does not amount to the severe burden upon the right to vote” that would justify a court order. Appeals Court Judge R. Guy Cole Jr., a 1995 appointee of President Clinton, disagrees. In his dissenting opinion, he says that under the Republican plan, “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.” He adds: “In this case, we anticipate the arrival of hundreds of Republican lawyers to challenge voter registration at the polls. Behind them will be hundreds of Democrat lawyers to challenge these challengers’ challenges. This is a recipe for confusion and chaos.” (Weinstein 11/2/2004)

Jesse Lee Peterson, appearing on a Fox News broadcast.Jesse Lee Peterson, appearing on a Fox News broadcast. [Source: Think Progress]The Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson attacks the Reverend Jesse Jackson for participating in what he calls a liberal conspiracy to “keep black[s] on the plantation of the Democratic Party.” Jackson has caused a media stir by raising questions about the fairness of the voting process in the November presidential elections in Ohio (see October 29, 2004 and Evening, October 31, 2004). Jackson, Peterson says, is part of an organized liberal effort to “keep black Americans angry in order to keep them on the plantation of the Democratic Party.” Peterson also accuses liberals of being the real racists in America, calls allegations that blacks were disenfranchised in the 2000 elections “a lie” (see November 7, 2000, November 7, 2000, November 7, 2000, 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000, and Early Afternoon, November 7, 2000), and falsely claims that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) supported reparations for slavery during his campaign. Peterson makes his remarks during an appearance on Fox News’s Hannity & Colmes. Co-host Sean Hannity is a member of BOND’s advisory board, and is quoted on the BOND Web site as calling Peterson “a great American” and “a man of conscience.” The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Peterson has often attacked Jackson. Peterson’s organization, the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), has held a “National Day of Repudiation of Jesse Jackson” for the last five years. In an August 2000 article in the John Birch Society’s New American magazine, Peterson called Jackson a “problem profiteer… who makes millions by exploiting and exacerbating racial tensions.” He wrote a 2003 book entitled Scam: How the Black Leadership Exploits Black America, in which he attacked Jackson, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and other black civil rights leaders. Peterson and BOND have led a boycott of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), claiming the organization is “a tool of the liberal elite socialist wing of the Democratic Party.” And he is currently suing Jackson for assault and civil rights violations (Seifter 11/30/2004) (the case will be settled out of court in 2006 after a jury dismisses all but one charge against Jackson and deadlocks on the remaining charge). (Judicial Watch 1/27/2006)


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