The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 3, 2012

Republican Party placing ‘challengers’ at local polls

Party chairman acknowledges goal to change law to require photo ID

By Susan Redden
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — Some voters will have extra observers watching over them Tuesday when they get to the polls.

Laws in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma allow political parties to send representatives to monitor the polls for turnout and to watch for any voting irregularities. The Republican Party will have monitors, called “challengers,” in place in Jasper and Newton counties. Monitors can notify county clerk offices of their plans up to Election Day in Kansas, and Crystal Gatewood, Cherokee County clerk, said she expects some will be present on Election Day. State law allows them, not only for political parties but also as representatives of candidates on the ballot, she said.

“In Kansas they’re called poll agents. We had some here during the primary, but they didn’t see any problems,” she said.

The deadline has passed for monitors in Oklahoma and none had registered in Ottawa County, according to Connie Payton, assistant secretary of the county election board.

All polling places in Newton County are to have the challengers, according to Nick Myers, chairman of the Newton County Republican Central Committee. In Jasper County, challengers will be in place at 24 of the county’s busiest voting stations, according to John Putnam, Jasper County party chairman.

Training for the workers was completed earlier in the week. In Newton County, that included a viewing of the video “Obama 2016,” Myers said. Those in Jasper County also were directed to online training by “True the Vote,” an organization that backers say targets voter fraud and that critics charge encourages voter suppression.

GOP challengers have worked presidential elections in the two counties for at least the last 10 years, the party chairs said.

Putnam said he did not believe Jasper County has problems with what he described as “malicious voter fraud,” but said the potential for fraud exists, making extra eyes at the polls more important.

“We don’t expect to catch a lot of voter fraud, but we also believe citizens need to get involved to make sure we have fair elections,” he said. “This is like people slowing down after they see the police car at the side of the road.”

Putnam said he attended a national summit meeting sponsored by True the Vote. He said he disagrees with suggestions the group tries to suppress voters, targeting elderly, young and minority voters.

Putnam pointed out that Artur Davis, a former congressman from Alabama who is black, is a spokesman for the group. Davis, who delivered one of the nominating speeches for President Barack Obama four years ago, changed political parties and spoke on behalf of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention.

Bonnie Earl, Jasper County clerk, said if challengers see something they want to question at a polling place, they are to raise the issue with an election judge, not the voter. Polling places are staffed by election judges representing both political parties.

“They are not to talk to voters about anything related to voting; those questions are to go to the (election) judges, and if they have questions beyond that, they’re to call me,” she said.

Putnam said challengers will be on the lookout for any voters who are not properly registered, and he acknowledged a goal of the group is a change in the law to require photo identification cards for voters in Missouri.

Myers, who supervised training for Newton County challengers, said voter turnout also will be a goal in both counties. Challengers will have voter registration lists and will check off the names of voters as they get to the polls. He said likely GOP voters who haven’t shown up by a certain time will get calls by GOP volunteers.

“We want every Newton County voter to turn out, because about six of every 10 are Republicans,” he said. “But we’re not there to quiz the voters. We’ve got good (election) judges, Republicans and Democrats in all the precincts, and we work with all of them. And we work with Kay (Baum, Newton County clerk),” he said.

State GOP officials said they did not know if other county parties were using training by the group.

Democrats also will be watching, according to Brittany Burke, party communications coordinator.

“We have a statewide voter protection team in place, to make sure every eligible voter can vote and that all eligible votes are counted,” she said.

Stacie Temple, communications director for Robin Carnahan, Missouri secretary of state, pointed out state law allows the challengers but also restricts their activities. For example, challenges can only be directed to an election judge, not the voter. Challengers are not allowed to interfere with the voting process, which is a violation of the law, and any interference should be reported to an election judge.

In addition to the presidential election, races for state and county offices also are on the ballot in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Voters in Missouri will decide a variety of state questions such as the selection of appeals court and Supreme Court judges, proposed restrictions on state-based health insurance exchanges, a tobacco tax increase and control of the St. Louis police department. Kansas voters will determine a question on watercraft taxes, and Oklahoma voters will decide issues dealing with property taxes, affirmative action, parole for nonviolent offenses and the dissolution of several state departments.

The number of statewide questions in Missouri and Oklahoma have prompted election officials to urge voters to familiarize themselves with the issues before they go to vote.

In addition to national and state issues, a variety of county and local questions will face voters, such as a proposal involving the planning commission in McDonald County, liquor by the drink in Cherokee County, a wastewater bond in Sarcoxie, a school bond in Lamar and a City Council recall in Baxter Springs.

Voting hours

In Missouri, polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. In Kansas and Oklahoma, hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.