Democrats enlist 'vote protectors'

By Paul Glasser Published:

Franklin County Clerk Guy Zeigler says the presence of Democratic "vote protectors" at two local precincts on Nov. 6 shouldn't have any impact on turnout or the election process. The Kentucky Democratic Party will deploy "vote protectors" at the Capital and courthouse precincts on Election Day. Legally, they are referred to as "challengers," but Democratic campaign communications director Robert Kellar says they will not question the eligibility of any voter. "Vote protectors" will also be deployed at more than 20 precincts in Lexington and 30 precincts in Louisville. Jennifer Moore, vice-chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party, said the workers will protect the rights of African-American voters who may have been purged from the voting rolls. Democrats have accused Secretary of State Trey Grayson of suppressing the rights of voters by banning provisional ballots. Provisional ballots would allow voters to cast a ballot if they have been mistakenly purged. Grayson said provisional ballots are only allowed during federal elections and cannot be used this year. Although it's unlikely, having challengers at a polling place could intimidate voters and depress turnout, Grayson said. The workers also use a checklist to track who does or doesn't vote, Kellar. The Democrats will use the information to help improve turnout on Election Day, Kellar said. "They will not challenge any votes," Kellar said. "They will not be positioned to intimidate anyone." Zeigler said the challengers will undergo training with election officers and are not allowed to harass voters or interfere with the election process. Challengers won't have any contact with voters and will be removed if they are disruptive. At a press conference on Tuesday, Grayson said he expects statewide turnout to be about 42 percent. Absentee balloting has increased above the level at this point in the 2003 election, when turnout was 40 percent. Zeigler has been involved in the election process for 25 years and said he's never had to deal with challengers before. However, he said it's unlikely they will have any negative impact on turnout in Franklin County. "I think our voters dedicated, and it would take something more than a challenger to discourage them from going to the polls," Zeigler said. Franklin County always has one of the highest rates of voter turnout, and Zeigler said this year will be no different, with an estimated 63 percent turnout. Zeigler also said he has seen an increase in absentee balloting, with 460 voters casting a ballot on the machine at the office and 150 mailing in ballots so far. That's on track to surpass the 800 absentee ballots from Franklin County in the 2003 election. Zeigler says he expects another 200 voters to cast their absentee ballot prior to Nov. 6. "They usually come in droves the last few days," he said. Preparations for the election are going well, and Zeigler said he doesn't anticipate any problems on Election Day. He will use a new spreadsheet to simultaneously tabulate the votes on the old mechanical voting machines, the new electronic machines and the absentee ballots. It won't make the tabulation go any faster, but Zeigler said it will allow them to provide partial results sooner. Grayson also issued a press release notifying employers they are required to give workers leave to cast a ballot on Election Day. Employees need to request time-off in advance, but employers are not required to compensate them for voting leave. State employees may also take up to four hours to vote. A report from Auditor Crit Luallen earlier this year showed that 95 percent of all state employees who take voting leave cast a ballot in May and November 2006. That's an improvement from 83 percent in the May 2004 election. New policies and requirements cut down on fraud, reducing the costs to taxpayers for non-complaint voting leave by 68 percent, from $424,000 in 2005 to $136,000 in 2006. Election Day Unofficial results in the statewide races will be available online at elect.ky.gov/results after the polls close at 6 p.m. Voters can check their registration information and poll location online at vote.ky.gov/vic.

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