Legal War Rooms Prep for Election Battle

Republican officials acknowledge that the Obama campaign has spent more resources in developing a more robust legal team throughout the country, but the Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign have worked to publicize the issue of voter fraud, specifically the efforts of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) to register new voters.

ACORN at one time boasted of registering 1.3 million new voters. It has stepped back from that number and admitted that a small fraction of its employees had submitted false voter registration forms. Several state investigations into the group have since been launched.

"This is a quasi criminal Democrat-affiliated organization," Sean Cairncross, the RNC's chief counsel said recently. Cairncross has participated in almost daily conference calls the last few weeks to bring attention to the group.

In the last debate John McCain accused ACORN of "one of the greatest frauds of voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy in this country."

ACORN says the Republican attacks are without merit and point to the relatively low statistics of convictions for voter fraud nationwide. Bauer calls it a "smear campaign."

"Any Democrat that says voter fraud doesn't exist is clearly not paying attention to what's happening in the country," says Porritt. "ACORN is conducting voter registration fraud with a purpose to flood election officials with faulty voter registrations in an attempt to suppress the vote" of legitimate voters.

Legal challenges feed on one necessary element: a tight race. One Republican aide, unwilling to talk on the record, says, "If the race is not close, the legal challenges will not be a large part of the conversation."

But so far, this election promises to have a vigorous legal component.

"Both parties are seeking what they believe is a fair vote," says Ginsberg. "Republicans will work hard to make sure there is no fraudulent voting. Democrats fear vote suppression and have an elaborate organization to guard against that."

Ginsberg, who is a partner at Patton Boggs adds, "Many over-caffeinated lawyers on both sides will be out Election Day."

And Attorney General Michael Mukasey, appointed by President Bush in part to restore morale in the Department of Justice after his predecessor, Judge Alberto Gonzales, resigned amid allegations that he allowed improper political considerations to taint the work of the department, is being called upon by both sides to keep a careful watch.

Bauer has written four letters to the attorney general, expressing concern that the Department of Justice could be "drawn by pressure from Republican party officials, candidates and operatives, into improper and illegal involvement in this year's election."

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote a letter to Bush last week asking him to direct Mukasey to investigate possible violations of legislation passed in 2002, called the Help America Vote Act in Ohio.

"Given that Election Day is less than two weeks away, immediate action by the department is not only warranted, but also crucial," wrote Boehner.

A Bush spokesperson said the president would forward the letter to his attorney general as "standard procedure." Mukasey has also received letters from Democratic members of Congress, outside groups serving as surrogates for both campaigns, and civil rights groups.

For the political camps, the race feels like it is almost over. Some lawyers might argue that it could be just beginning.

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