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Archive for Sunday, October 31, 2004

Lawrence lawyer to monitor voting

Volunteer to keep eye on New Mexico’s polls

October 31, 2004

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She calls it a "sad commentary" on the state of elections in the United States.

But with the problems after the 2000 election and legal challenges already piling up before this year's vote, a Lawrence attorney said she felt compelled to volunteer for an effort to monitor voting in battleground states during Tuesday's presidential election.

"We don't want a constitutional crisis in our elections process, and I think that's what this is all about," said Rebecca Woodman, who was leaving Saturday to drive to New Mexico. "I see my role as simply one of many thousands who are doing their small part to ensure that the principle of one-person, one-vote is upheld."

Woodman, who works for the state representing defendants who appeal death-penalty sentences, is among thousands being dispatched nationwide. She is volunteering as a poll observer on behalf of the Democratic National Committee.

An estimated 10,000 attorneys are fanning out nationwide for the John Kerry campaign alone. Thousands more are being sent on behalf of Republicans.

Woodman will attend a training meeting today in Albuquerque, then drive to her poll assignment in Santa Fe. She will learn today exactly what she'll be assigned to do, but in general she'll be watching for people who aren't allowed to cast a ballot. Whenever someone is turned away from a polling place, she'll try to find out why and whether it was a legitimate reason.

Woodman committed to be in New Mexico until Wednesday, but in a worst-case scenario she'll have to stay or go back to testify in court about what she observes.

The Democrats' strategy is for out-of-state attorneys to watch the polls, freeing attorneys licensed to practice in New Mexico to be in the courtroom if necessary, she said. The Republicans are also expected to have a large number of attorneys in the state.

Recent polls show President George W. Bush tied with Kerry in New Mexico, long considered a Democratic stronghold. Much of the pre-election coverage has been about voter irregularities in Ohio and Florida, but the Democratic National Committee lists 21 states considered "critical" this election, including Iowa, Missouri and New Mexico.

Last week in Missouri, members of the federal bar received notices from the federal courts instructing them how to file lawsuits on election night.

Woodman, a Derby native, is a 1987 graduate of Washburn University School of Law with an undergraduate degree in political science from Wichita State University. She's been a state appellate defender for 12 years.

She learned about two weeks ago via e-mail that the Democrats were looking for attorneys to work as observers. She put her name on a list, sent her credentials and told Democrats she'd be willing to go to either New Mexico or Missouri.

Woodman's partner, local carpenter and contractor Tom Crates, is going along for the ride and will help Woodman.

He said he's worried to see campaigns and elections becoming more negative and aggressive, and he fears that in years ahead it will become standard for attorneys to watch the polls.

"I think I'm having trepidation more than anything," he said. "I'm of the mind that I will be glad when the election has occurred and it's decided."

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