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Poll watchers will be in place for Election Day

| Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 11:59 p.m.

Dozens of lawyers will be stationed throughout Western Pennsylvania on Tuesday to field complaints of election fraud and answer questions about voting rights.

Others,inside a command center at Reed Smith's Downtown offices, will dispatch their mobile counterparts to areas where a need arises. In all, more than 1,000 volunteers will be on call in Pennsylvania, including 60 lawyers and 100 non-lawyers in Allegheny County.

“The bottom line is that we want to make sure that everyone who is registered to vote and can cast a ballot is able to do so,” said Kim Watterson, a partner at Reed Smith who is helping coordinate the effort with lawyers, local nonprofits, the American Civil Liberties Union, Duquesne University, the University of Pittsburgh and Election Protection, a nationwide nonprofit.

The most common problems in Allegheny County include people leaving campaign literature inside polling locations, faulty voting machines and polling locations that open late, said Sara Rose, a lawyer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

“Most things are not done purposefully,” Rose said. “It's more a lack of communication.”

In addition to Election Protection's recruits, Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun E. Sweeney and a team of lawyers at the direction of U.S. Attorney David Hickton will be on duty to handle any problems. Special agents from the FBI will be available to receive allegations of election fraud and other abuses.

“Every citizen must be able to vote without interference or discrimination and to have their vote counted,” Hickton said. “The Department of Justice will act promptly and aggressively to protect the integrity of the election process.”

Concerns about voter fraud appear to be arising earlier than usual this year, likely because of the hotly contested presidential race.

Residents of Florida and Virginia — where polls show President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney neck-and-neck — have received phone calls telling them they can vote by phone. In Florida, some voters are receiving bogus letters — purportedly signed by local election supervisors — questioning their citizenship and eligibility to vote.

In Pennsylvania, the state's new voter ID law could confuse voters or poll workers.

“There was a lot of back and forth, so it might be unclear to people what the law actually is this year,” Rose said.

Voters will be asked for photo ID, but are not required to produce it to vote.

The voter ID law aside, Republican and Democratic leaders praised efforts to ensure the integrity of the election process.

“I like anything that we do that will help more people vote and ensure the people who are voting should be voting,” said Jim Roddey, chairman of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County.

“It's good that there are many avenues to put out any fires that may ignite on Tuesday,” said Nancy Patton Mills, chairwoman of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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