Florida memories draw poll watchers to Nevada

RENO - Memories of Florida's contested 2000 presidential election are spurring dozens of groups to join an unprecedented effort to scrutinize the polls Tuesday in battleground Nevada.

More than 1,000 poll watchers, including lawyers, political activists, federal officials and computer experts, plan to monitor voting venues for voter rights violations and other irregularities. Many are from out of state.

Law enforcement authorities in Nevada's two most populous counties - Clark and Washoe - also are taking unprecedented measures to ensure security at the polls Tuesday.

One of the largest monitoring efforts will be sponsored by the Election Protection coalition, a group of 60 organizations that includes the AFL-CIO, NAACP, League of Women Voters and Common Cause.

The coalition plans to send more than 450 monitors to 50 polling places in the Las Vegas area and 200 volunteers to 20 voting sites in the Reno area.

Nationwide, the nonpartisan coalition has registered nearly 15,000 monitors, focusing on 3,500 predominantly black and Latino precincts in 17 states.

"We're concentrating on these groups because they historically have been disenfranchised and intimidated," said Marissa Bega, the coalition's Reno coordinator. "Voter suppression is something we're worried about. We want to make sure no voter falls through the cracks."

The two major political parties also plan to keep a close watch on polling places across the state. The GOP is sending out nearly 200 poll watchers, while Democrats are posting hundreds of monitors.

"We plan to have poll watchers to make sure it's a fair and transparent election," said Chris Carr, executive director of the Nevada Republican Party. "To be honest, we don't foresee any major problems. Elections in Nevada have gone smoothly."

Last month, the state Democratic Party sued to reopen registration after allegations surfaced that a Republican-funded group destroyed voter registration forms from Democrats. A Las Vegas judge ruled against the party.

The company, headed by Nathan Sproul of Chandler, Ariz., has acknowledged trying to register only Republicans but denied registration forms from Democrats were shredded.

"I'd say that the people who are keeping close tabs on the election certainly are justified in doing so," Democratic Party spokesman Jon Summers said. "That's one of the reasons why we'll have our team of attorneys at polling sites across the state."

The Verified Voting Foundation, started by Stanford University computer science professor David Dill, is sending out about a dozen technology professionals to Nevada to monitor touch-screen voting, spokesman Will Doherty said.

While the electronic voting system received high marks after its debut in the September primary election, computer experts are worried because most machines in Clark County don't produce paper records of every ballot cast.

"That's a major area of concern. With a paper trail you have a way of doing a reliable recount or audit," Doherty said.

The Justice Department is sending out three times as many poll watchers on Election Day than in 2000, assigning some to Clark and Washoe counties.

Camille Damm, assistant U.S. attorney for Nevada, has been named to oversee complaints of election fraud and voting rights abuses in the state.


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