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When Mark Aronchick returned home four years ago from Florida after spending weeks arguing on behalf of Vice President Al Gore concerning a variety of alleged voter irregularities in the Sunshine State, he was dejected. “I thought we had won and that the [U.S. Supreme] Court took it away from us,” said Aronchick, a partner at Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin, who is one of many Philadelphia lawyers attending the Democratic National Convention in Boston this week. That bitter taste is still in the mouths of Democratic lawyers like Aronchick, who serves as chairman of the Pennsylvania legal steering committee for the Kerry/Edwards campaign. That’s why they are using the convention as a means to hold informal strategy sessions and educate and recruit other lawyers who did not participate in the Florida adventure. Stephen Sheller, a name partner at Sheller Ludwig & Badey, had contacted Aronchick in 2000 after his mother-in-law and some of her friends said they meant to vote for Gore but instead mistakenly cast their ballots for Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan due to confusion over the now-infamous butterfly ballot used in Palm Beach County, Fla. Sheller and Aronchick worked with Florida lawyers representing plaintiffs across the state. The lessons learned in Florida four years ago are being applied in Boston as the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute passed out flyers to delegates that invited lawyers to attend an educational program that ran from Sunday through Tuesday. The program was designed to “promote and protect” the rights of voters who feel disenfranchised by the process. The agenda included how to combat alleged problems such as purging voter registration rolls, voting machine malfunctions, voter intimidation and absentee ballot irregularities. Earlier this month, Democrats cried foul when the Miami Herald reported that the names of more than 2,100 eligible voters were found on a list of people to be purged from Florida’s voter rolls. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said the purging was similar to accusations from four years ago that people were mistakenly placed on Florida’s list of felons. “There are still serious problems in Florida, and after what happened four years ago, you can be certain that we’re going to pay specific attention to what happens there,” Sheller said. “But there were and are problems in other states. They just weren’t as apparent because the results weren’t as close as they were in Florida. “Part of the reason [the DNC] had that forum was that they want to educate more lawyers about the issues and that will allow them to have more people on the ground. But it’s important to have those people on the ground before Election Day.” Aronchick, who four years ago referred to Florida as a “legal house of horrors,” ran the legal operation for Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s successful gubernatorial campaign in 2002. He said the DNC wants to have an organized effort from its lawyers in battleground states, which include Pennsylvania. In Florida, Sheller said, there is a pending lawsuit that contends that a paper backup should be required for any electronic machine. In Philadelphia, some voters expressed concern about the new electronic voting machines during 2002 because they do not have a paper backup if there is a malfunction. But Aronchick said there were more problems in the city with handicapped access and providing measures for those who live in a voting district and want to vote through alternative methods because they are physically unable to get to the polls. “It’s not possible to get a paper backup for Philadelphia or Montgomery County at this point,” Aronchick said. “So we want to make sure that experts check the machines beforehand to screen for any possible malfunction. During the Rendell election, we were focused on making sure voters were educated about how to use the new machines and that mechanics were available if there was a malfunction. There were no major problems, but we are going to look at things closely. My own view is that we don’t need to file a lawsuit similar to the one in Florida. We just need to stay on top of things.” Drinker Biddle & Reath partner Gregg Melinson served as the chairman of Lawyers for Bush/Cheney in Eastern Pennsylvania four years ago. After the Florida fiasco, he was appointed by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to serve on an election reform committee. He said that even though the new electronic machines in Philadelphia do not have a paper backup, they have redundancies that would allow election officials to forensically reconstruct recorded votes in case of a malfunction. Melinson said that similar to Democrats, experienced Republican election lawyers are attempting to recruit and educate hundreds of lawyers to help before and on Election Day. Like Democrats, Melinson said, Republicans want to avoid the squabbling over hanging chads and other voter irregularities by spending the fall preparing and making sure there are no major snafus. “I think the most effective relief you can provide your candidate is pro-active relief,” Melinson said. “Challenging the outcome on Election Day means that your guy lost. It’s much better to be diligent in the weeks leading up to the election to avoid that kind of situation all together.” Editor’s note: For news on a related matter, see the Miami Daily Business Review article Judge Hears Objections to Fla. Ban on Manual Vote Recounts.

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