Two groups request voting monitors for Augusta November election

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September 28, 2006

There's just over a month before voters head to the polls, but the Augusta NAACP is taking steps now to make sure the election is carried out fairly.

They're asking the US Justice Department to step in and oversee the election.

Under the Voting Rights Act, any voter or group has the right to ask for federal assistance if they have a serious concern about the fairness surrounding an upcoming election. Two local groups say they have several concerns and that's why they're asking for help.

"On election day, we want to make sure every vote is tallied, every vote is accurately counted," said Dr. Charles Smith, president of the Augusta NAACP.

Dr. Smith sent a letter to the US Department of Justice saying the citizens of Richmond County do not have trust and confidence in the reliability of the Diebold electronic voting machines.

"These machines are unreliable," he told News 12. "It's like a credit card. You scan it. If a person does not go through the whole process, or forgets to push the button, the vote won't count."

So Dr. Smith and Sharon Paschal of Taxpayers for Economic Justice are asking the Justice Department to deploy federal observers to Augusta to monitor the November election.

"Again, you have somebody that's back on the ballot that was on the ballot in the previous election, so you want to make sure the machines are cleared," Paschal said.

The groups have organized a petition with over 600 names.

Other than the voting machines, they're concerned about Deke Copenhaver's former campaign manager, Tim Moses, serving on the Board of Elections, which oversees the tabulation of votes.

"He recused himself during the hearing, but the Board may still be contaminated with his views," Paschal said.

While it's uncertain if the Justice Department will actually grant the groups' request, voters we talked to had mixed opinions about this step being taken.

"If you've got people to protect you and get it done right then it goes right," said Alma Stringfeller.

"Were I a minority person, I might have some questions too, but I'm not sure if anything of untoward is going on at this point," said Lowell Barnhart.

Federal observers are trained by the Justice Department.

If they came to Augusta, they would watch, listen, and record everything that happens inside the polling places.

They would not be allowed to interfere with the election, but they would prepare a report, and that report would be used in court if there was a challenge.

Federal monitors have never been deployed to Augusta, but they have been sent to dozens of counties over the last few years.

So how long will it be before we know if the justice department will send the monitors.

We probably won't know for a couple of weeks whether the Justice Department will send the monitors. The decision lies with the Attorney General.

Secretary of State Cathy Cox says it will be expensive for extra security on those electronic voting machines.

She submitted a cost plan to the governor for providing paper trails for the electronic ballots.

The estimate is between $19.5 and $75 million for the system.

The state spent $75 million to switch to electronic ballots in 2002.

To read the letter the NAACP sent to the Justice Department, click here.

To learn more about voting rights, click here.