Charges of Intimidation: Election Tactic?

Democrats insist GOP is aiming to suppress voter turnout in several minority communities.

Democratic officials, in a flurry of accusations just before election day, charge Republicans with plotting to suppress minority voting in key urban neighborhoods.

In a dispute reminiscent of elections in third-world countries, the White House and top party leaders accuse the GOP of trying to intimidate black voters by placing special monitors at urban polling places.

"They are putting armed guards around polling places ... [and] using off-duty cops," says White House press secretary Joe Lockhart. "They are trying to keep people in poor communities away from the polls."

Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee, denies the charges. "There is no place in America for such low and divisive rhetoric," he says.

The dispute is sensitive because turnout is expected to be the key to this year's election results. Strategists in both parties have been closely watching last-minute maneuvering. "If you can get your voters out by demonizing the other guy ... it can work," says Michael Johnston, a political scientist at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.

Voter intimidation was once fairly common in the United States. "Guys used to stand around the ballot box when people would vote," he says. "But ... I would be reluctant to take [last-minute accusations] at face value from any party."

Nevertheless, Democrats insist the practice is serious. Over the weekend, President Clinton and his top advisers raised concerns that Republican monitors were also planning to videotape people going in and out of voting places.

Democrats name a half dozen areas where they claim the practice could occur: urban districts in Michigan, Maryland, Texas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Georgia.

Mr. Nicholson counters that the White House should apologize for even leveling such a charge.

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