CLEVELAND — Thousands of lawyers from both presidential campaigns will enter polling places Tuesday in a kind of Spy vs. Spy with one central goal: tracking their opponents and, if need be, initiating legal action.
The lawyers will note how poll workers behave, where voters are directed, if intimidation appears to be under way, whether lines are long. And they will report up a chain of command where decisions over court action will be made at headquarters in Chicago and Boston.
This will go on in every battleground state — including Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida, even Pennsylvania — but it will be most focused in Ohio and especially in Greater Cleveland, which is heavily Democratic and where many people believe history teaches a simple lesson: The more votes cast here, the likelier President Barack Obama is to win.
As the persuasion effort winds down, campaigns are focused on getting their supporters to vote and getting those votes counted.
The result has been a mass mobilization of lawyers. The Democrats will have 600 lawyers in action here in Cuyahoga County and 2,500 across the state, their organizers say. They have been holding training sessions, grouping legal volunteers into workers and supervisors. The Republicans have much smaller teams — about 70 in this county — and will rely more on surrogates, including nonlawyer poll workers. Each side says the other cannot be trusted and, given the likelihood of a tight presidential race, the risks of litigation here — and delayed results — are high.
“If it’s close, you will see both sides running to court,” said Jeff Hastings, a Republican and chairman of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.
The Democrats say they fear acts of sabotage.
“How tough would it be for them to send people to the wrong precincts and tie up poll workers to slow things down?” asked Stuart Garson, chairman of the Democratic Party of Cuyahoga County. “If we see someone getting in someone’s face, our lawyers will be there.”
Robert S. Frost, the chairman of the county Republican Party, said his legal volunteers would be at precincts where Republican poll workers were thinly represented in past elections and where there had been allegations of impropriety. He said the Democrats had built up such a huge legal team because their strategy was to create enough confusion so the race would have to move to court.
“It’s pretty cynical,” he said. “That’s why we need to have people on the ground: to keep an eye on the other side.”
The Democrats feel the same way.
“In each battleground state, we are recruiting thousands of attorney volunteers to help recruit, train, educate and observe at polling locations,” the Obama campaign said in a statement. “We’ve retained or opened pipelines to the nation’s top experts on voting systems, registration databases, ballot design, student voting and provisional ballots.”