LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Republican Party has appointed voter challengers to work election day in the 59 precincts in Louisville where African Americans are concentrated. The GOP-assigned challengers will work at polls in west and central Louisville and in Portland and Newburgh, but there will be no challengers in the whiter and wealthier eastern precincts.

Raoul Cunningham, NAACP voter registration director, and Georgia Powers, a civil rights leader and former state senator, condemned the appointment of challengers as a blatant attempt to intimidate and suppress the vote in African American areas. County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Longmeyer blasted the GOP challenging plan as an effort to intimidate African American voters.

County Republican Chairman Jack Richardson IV asserted that the challengers are needed to assure that the voters are bona fide and claimed that the precincts were chosen at random.

Under Kentucky law, any political party may place a challenger at each poll. The challenger has the right to question the credentials of any voter. Unless an election officer rules that the challenge is not valid, a voter whose credentials are challenged must sign an oath swearing that he or she is a legitimate voter in order to cast a ballot. The Democratic Party does not plan to use challengers.

Kentucky is one of only three states that will be voting this November for a new governor. The Kentucky governor’s race is hotly contested. Republican Congressman Ernie Fletcher is opposed by Democratic Attorney General Ben Chandler, who is waging his campaign against the Bush economic policies that brought hardships to Kentucky. Fletcher, a physician who voted no on the patients’ bill of rights, has strongly supported the Bush agenda. Fletcher’s campaign has benefited from the generosity of the pharmaceutical companies, and Fletcher has strongly opposed the re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada. Patients could save as much as two-thirds on their drugs bills by buying through Canada.

The winner of the Nov. 4 election is expected to lead by no more than a nose, and if Chandler is to win he needs an overwhelming majority in Louisville, particularly in the African American communities.

Kentucky, with an overwhelming Democratic registration, voted for Bush in 2000 and is often described as a bellwether state. Political observers say the Kentucky governor’s race will be a referendum on the Bush presidency.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org