Between the millions of voters displaced by Hurricane Sandy and the sheer closeness of the race in many of the nation’s swing states, election officials on Tuesday are expecting one of the most contentious presidential contests in recent memory. The campaigns of both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney have dispatched teams of election lawyers at polling precincts in states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Virginia and Florida.
Their job? To make sure voting procedures are followed, voters are not disenfranchised and every vote is counted -- all in an effort to avoid the bureaucratic nightmare that was the 2000 election recount, when the entire presidential contest hinged upon a few hundred disputed chads in Florida.
Since that historically protracted election, legal teams have become as obligatory to presidential campaigns as TV advertising. And with many polls showing Obama and Romney locked in a dead heat, neither campaign is leaving anything to chance.
“They are all lawyered up, absolutely,” Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “They have teams everywhere.”
Exactly how many lawyers are being deployed is not known, but their numbers are likely to be in the tens of thousands on each side, with most lawyers working as volunteers. The Daily Beast’s Ben Jacobs reports that the Romney campaign may have dispatched 1,000 lawyers in Virginia alone. According to the New York Times, meanwhile, Democrats will have 2,500 lawyers stationed at precincts across the state of Ohio.
Both legal teams are using their own special tactics to make sure the votes of their constituents are counted. Ben Ginsberg, who leads the legal team for Mitt Romney, has launched a massive monitoring program called Project ORCA, which allows voters to use their smart phones to send voting information directly from precincts. (Ginsberg, incidentally, served as the national counsel for George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount.) Project ORCA is reportedly employing upwards of 34,000 volunteers.
As for President Obama, his legal team has enacted its own strategy. The president’s general counsel, Robert Bauer, has been training lawyers to spot voter intimidation at the hands of groups affiliated with the Republican Party.
Of course, none of this preemptive lawyer deployment is going to prevent the inevitable election-related lawsuits. In fact, such lawsuits have already begun. One federal suit filed yesterday in Columbus, Ohio, claims that the software being used in some of the state’s voting machines could be subject to manipulation. And in Florida, Democrats have sued to extend early voting hours after Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, declined to approve an extension.
A recent study from the New York University School of Law found that fraud perpetrated by individual voters is “extremely rare.” Rather, the study found that the majority of vote irregularities are the result of technological glitches, clerical errors, misinformation, voter intimidation and other forms of election misconduct.