updated 11/1/2004 1:59:28 PM ET 2004-11-01T18:59:28

New laws, new voting procedures and court fights that have changed the rules in some states may mean added confusion at the polls on Tuesday. With memories of deadlocked Florida still fresh, the lawyers are plentiful and busy this year. Here is a voter’s guide to ways the partisan legal skirmishing could affect voters on Election Day.

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How many lawyers are involved?
Thousands. Democrats plan to have about 10,000 lawyers at the ready on Election Day, while Republicans estimate they will have 8,500. Outside groups also plan to deploy lawyers; a coalition of progressive groups says it will have 6,000 lawyers on hand.

What will all those people do?
Maybe very little. The idea is to have enough bodies to initiate or counter challenges to individual voters or voting practices, address bigger problems such as the confusing “butterfly ballot” from four years ago in Florida, gather notes and voter names for possible legal challenges later and answer voters’ questions by phone.

Where will they go?
Lawyers, like the candidates, are concentrating on battleground states. Democrats plan to send more than 2,000 lawyers to Florida alone.

Will lawyers watch me vote?
In some states, yes. In two of the closest states, Ohio and Florida, partisan poll watchers can sit inside the polling place, and can challenge or defend a voter’s qualifications.

What should I do if someone challenges my eligibility to vote?
Election experts say it is a good idea to bring a picture ID with you, even if your state doesn’t require you to show it. For extra insurance, bring something with your current address, such as a utility bill, and your voter registration card if you have one. If you still run into trouble, you could ask if there are poll watchers or lawyers nearby who could help you. There also are toll-free numbers to call, including one run by the liberal group People for the American Way: 1-866-OUR-VOTE. If none of that helps, you can request a provisional ballot, which will count if election workers later determine that you really are eligible.

What is a provisional ballot?
It’s a backup system. Congress required states to offer provisional, or conditional, ballots in response to problems identified in the 2000 election mess. Provisional ballots are supposed to be available to voters who show up at the polls but find they are not listed on the rolls, or whose eligibility is somehow in question. The ballots are set aside and evaluated after the election. Ballots cast by eligible voters will count and will be added to the totals.

Are there risks to casting a provisional ballot?
Yes. It might not count. State laws and rules vary widely, and there is no way to know on the spot whether your vote will count. The federal law that required nationwide provisional voting guarantees that you can call state election officials after Election Day to find out if your vote counted.

What should I do if a poll worker tells me I am not on the list?
You can always cast a provisional ballot, but you might want to ask if there is a way to check the county or statewide voting registration lists to see if you are registered in another precinct. Some polling places will have access to this information. You also might ask if there is someone else at the polling place — a poll watcher, a neutral voting advocate or a partisan lawyer — you can ask for help.

Do I have to bring identification with me?
It depends. A good rule of thumb is that if you’ve got a picture ID you should bring it just in case. A few states require that all voters show ID. You can ask if your state requires this before you show it. Federal law now also requires first-time voters who registered by mail to present ID.

Massive voter registration drives have signed up tens of thousands of new voters this year, and I’ve heard that some of those registrations might be fake or faulty. What will happen to those, and will it affect me on Election Day?
Republicans already have challenged allegedly fraudulent or questionable registrations, and plan to do so anew on Election Day. Democrats may do the same, although their lawyers say it’s less likely. State election officials are also working to weed out ineligible voters and duplicate registrations. It’s illegal to vote twice. New voters may be subject to more scrutiny at the polls. Experienced voters, or those living outside the urban and swing state areas where many of the voter drives were concentrated, probably won’t be affected much.

I’ve heard a lot about lawsuits already. Why start the court fights before we even know who won?
Both political parties are trying to give their candidate maximum advantage. Pre-election lawsuits filed by both parties or their surrogates seek to tighten some rules or loosen others according to which candidate seems most likely to benefit. Other challenges filed by outside groups like the American Civil Liberties Union or the League of Women Voters may not benefit either candidate, but seek to clarify voting ground rules.

Is that unusual?
No, but there are many more lawsuits this year, and more coverage of them in the media.

What about legal challenges after the election? Will we see another recount like we had in Florida?
Lawyers on both sides predict some sort of postelection litigation if the race for president is very close. There could be recounts in one or more states, along with other kinds of legal challenges. For example, Democrats could mount a multistate challenge to counting standards for provisional ballots, or Republicans could claim that results in one or more states are invalid because large numbers of ineligible voters slipped through.

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