If the early exit numbers leaking out hold, there will be no enormous change in the congressional stalemate when this election is over. The big Election Day story may well be the efforts of the Republican Party to discourage citizens from exercising their democratic rights. Bulletins from around the country suggest a national strategy, coordinated from Washington, to intimidate Democratic voters in the name of preventing "fraud."
While there have been reports of such tactics from places as far afield as Tennessee, Texas and Maryland, the smoking document turned up in Pennsylvania -- where the Republicans were desperately trying to preserve Rep. George Gekas from defeat. Today the Lebanon Daily News ran an editorial (click on editorials in left column), denouncing the Gekas campaign for preparing a systematic effort to "challenge" voters in counties favorable to his Democratic opponent, Rep. Tim Holden.
"Gekas, a Harrisburg Republican, has distributed among county officials and volunteers an 18-page manual that includes a section about 'challenging a voter.' That's right: Gekas volunteers aren't just going to challenge absentee ballots, but are going to try to block some people who show up at the polls from casting votes."
After citing this pamphlet's erroneous statements about state election law and the "scurrilous" challenges that it might encourage, the editorial quotes a Gekas campaign spokesman who said the manual "had been drafted by Republican authorities at the national level and had not been tailored to Pennsylvania law."
In other words, Republican "poll watchers" around the country evidently have been instructed to attempt to stop people from voting, without regard to the specific provisions of state law. This is a disgrace without parallel since the civil rights era (or at least since Florida 2000). Should the Democrats hold onto the Senate, an appropriate subcommittee should investigate these schemes -- because the Republicans never will.
[3:17 p.m. PST, Nov. 5, 2002]