Republicans are angered by a pamphlet that shows how Democrats plan to respond to problems - or nonproblems - minority voters might face.
TALLAHASSEE - As the nation braces for another close presidential election, Democrats have distributed a manual to supporters in Florida and other battleground states listing tactics they expect Republicans may use to discourage minority voters from casting ballots.
Democrats warn that minority residents could be incorrectly told by Republicans that they cannot vote if they recently moved, are behind in child support payments or fail to bring documents to the polls such as drivers' licenses or apartment leases to verify their address.
The 66-page pamphlet lists how Democratic activists and lawyers could respond, from holding news conferences to filing lawsuits.
Absent local evidence that Republicans are using such tactics to mislead minority voters, the document offers another suggestion: Democrats could make a "pre-emptive strike" and raise the issue anyway.
A copy of the Democrats' manual that was distributed in Colorado was obtained Thursday by the St. Petersburg Times from the Florida Republican Party. The Democratic National Committee later released a portion of the manual, which is being used in Florida and other states.
The manual illustrates the preparations being made by both Democrats and Republicans to deal with questions about the eligibility of voters, election machines and other issues. In 2000, both sides scrambled to react to Florida's contested election. This year, the major political parties and many independent interest groups have signed up armies of legal teams and poll watchers to raise election issues and quickly respond to problems.
DNC spokeswoman Jano Cabrera said the manual was designed to fight voter intimidation by "exposing the dirty tricks when they happen, and helping educate local officials and activists about past Republican tactics so they can prevent them from occurring this year."
But Republicans criticized the lines describing how Democrats could generate concern even when there is no indication such tactics are being used.
Florida Republican Party chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan said the manual indicates "how disgustingly low John Kerry and the Democrat Party will stoop for an ounce of political gain."
But Florida Democratic Party chairman Scott Maddox, who had not seen the manual, said Democrats in this state would not have to make up election concerns.
He said Secretary of State Glenda Hood, the state's chief elections officer, has erred by working to keep Ralph Nader on the ballot and disqualifying some legitimate voters.
"In Florida the problem would never be crying wolf - the wolf at the Division of Elections has already presented itself," Maddox said.
Republican Party spokeswoman Mindy Tucker Fletcher said in Tallahassee that Democrats apparently have been following the manual.
She noted that Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe held a news conference this week suggesting minority voters are being intimidated, and several Florida Democrats are touring the state and issuing similar warnings.
Under the heading "Minority Voter Intimidation," the manual says the Republican Party and its candidates have repeatedly harassed and intimidated minority voters to reduce turnout among African-American and Hispanic voters.
"If no signs of intimidation techniques have emerged yet," the manual advises, "launch a pre-emptive strike (particularly well suited to states in which these techniques have been tried in the past.)"
It urges Democrats to issue news releases quoting civil rights leaders denouncing intimidation tactics and seek news stories expressing concern about the threat of intimidation tactics.
The manual suggests preparing before Election Day to file lawsuits and naming state and local Republican Party organizations as defendants even if the national party is not involved.
Peter Wallace, a St. Petersburg lawyer and leader of the Kerry legal team in Pinellas County, said Thursday the manual was designed to help identify voter intimidation.
"The words "pre-emptive strike' are not a good choice of words," said Wallace, a former state House speaker. "But I think it is talking about a pre-emptive strike in the media to increase public awareness in the media."
Florida's Democrats have been voicing concern over alleged attempts to intimidate black voters in Orlando, who have been questioned by law enforcement officials in connection with a criminal investigation into voter fraud.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating allegations involving absentee ballots circulated in the black community by an activist working for Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, a Democrat who won re-election earlier this year.