LAKE WORTH, Fla. — In Palm Beach County, where voters
worry about another contested election and party officials swap
accusations of fraud and intimidation, nearly everyone has
different thoughts on the likely outcome of today’s election.
If there is one thing residents of this county can agree on, it is
that something almost certainly will go wrong.

George Sabas, a Bulgarian immigrant who lives in the county and
has already voted, said he expects an outcome like that of the 2000
election — recounts, legal battles and weeks of
uncertainty.

“I’m not very comfortable with it,” he
said.

But Carol Ann Loehndorf, chair of the Palm Beach County
Democratic Party, said a repeat of 2000 — in which the two
major candidates were separated by only a few hundred votes —
is unlikely, owing to the huge numbers of new voters registered in
the state by both parties.

She said she is confident that Palm Beach County will turn out
strongly for Kerry, and that he will win the state by a significant
margin, largely due to the ground work she and other officials have
done.

The most pressing issue facing the Florida election, Loehndorf
said, is voter intimidation and fraud. She blamed local Republicans
for what she said have been a series of attempts to disenfranchise
Democratic voters in recent days. Such incidents have included
fraudulently collecting absentee ballots and spreading wrong
information to voters by phone, Loehndorf said.

“We just had a set of calls today where people were told
their polling places had changed, and this is in a very Democratic
precinct,” she said. “We’ve heard reports of
people with Kerry buttons collecting absentee ballots. … We
don’t have any people collecting absentee ballots.”

To guard against intimidation and other wrongdoing at the polls,
Loehndorf said the county Democratic Party has registered about 750
poll watchers.

“They’re going to be in heavy Democratic
areas,” she said. “Our goal is just to make sure our
folks are allowed to vote.”

Jenni Garrison, executive director of the Palm Beach County
Republican Party, said Loehndorf’s charges were false.
Garrison said the electoral process and the new touch-screen voting
machines are fair and accurate, and predicted that any problems in
today’s election would be caused by the Democrats.

“The Democrats are disgusting in the tricks and deception
that they’re creating in this election,” Garrison said.
“The problem is going to be the Democrats and their tricks
and shenanigans, to try to encourage people to vote who
aren’t qualified to vote, or who have already voted absentee.
… We intend to prevent them from getting away with
it.”

Still, some county residents worried that the Florida election
could be disrupted by factors outside the bounds of partisanship
— such as the state’s disproportionately large elderly
population.

“There are so many elderly people, and a lot of them
can’t see, so there could be mistakes,” said Lake Worth
resident Michelle Merola.

Merola praised Florida’s touch-screen electronic voting
machines, which Loehndorf said have been reported to display votes
for Bush after voters have attempted to select Kerry.

Merola said she has used the machines before and found them
easier to understand than any other voting method.

Still, while Merola said she did not expect any trouble for
herself at the polls, she was not confident that today’s vote
would go well for Florida.

“I just don’t see it going too smoothly,”
Merola said.

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