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Washington Post: Voter fraud fears become the latest partisan issue

Friday, October 29, 2010

On Election Day, voters standing in line to cast their ballots in Harris County, Tex., will be treated to a cool drink courtesy of a group called "the lemonade brigade." But the group has another motive - curbing voter fraud.

It is one of several Republican and tea party-affiliated groups across the country who are taking their citizen activism to the polls this year to stop what they believe will be rampant abuse of the nation's error-prone election system. In Minnesota, for example, conservative groups are running radio ads and offering $500 rewards to those who turn in anyone successfully prosecuted for voter fraud.

In Wisconsin, someone recently erected billboards depicting people behind bars because they illegally voted. And in Illinois, Senate candidate Rep. Mark Kirk (R) has come under fire for being caught on tape saying he wanted to dispatch "voter integrity" teams to "vulnerable" districts, which critics have noted include some heavily black neighborhoods.

But the conservative alarms have drawn the attention of liberal and voting rights groups, who say the concerns are overblown and the surveillance borders on intimidation. Black and Latino advocacy groups plan to step up their own presence at the polls to make sure legitimate voters won't be deterred from casting ballots.

This latest partisan issue caps an election season that has gnawed at racial divides and exposed raw emotions on the part of American voters, who will cast ballots in Tuesday in a series of close congressional and gubernatorial races. Fears and accusations of election misconduct are nothing new, and stringent laws have been on the books for decades that restrict how close observers can get to voters, or how many of them can be there at all.

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