With eight days to go before election day, it’s the “November Surprise” that we need to worry about. Every day brings reports of voter intimidation and suppression in the key battleground states.

A front-page story in Saturday’s New York Times reported that the Republican Party has registered thousands of people to serve as partisan “vote challengers” at Ohio polling places, in what they say is an effort to prevent “voter fraud.” Meanwhile, the Columbus Dispatch reported that based on a mailing to newly registered voters, the GOP plans to challenge 35,000 voters in an effort to keep them from the polls.

This disturbing news from Ohio points to the potential for massive voter disenfranchisement in November–and additional confusion and chaos at the polls in this key swing state and others, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona–that have seen huge increases in voter registration.

“Based on the lessons of history,” says Ralph Neas, President of People for the American Way (PFAW), “this isn’t an effort to prevent voter fraud. It’s an effort to prevent voting. It’s an effort to keep people away from the polls by creating confusion, congestion and chaos. That’s un-American.”

What is so threatening about tens of thousands of new voters coming to the polls? Doesn’t democracy work best when more people vote, not fewer? Obviously, voter fraud must not and should not be tolerated. But there is no evidence of massive voter fraud in this country. Instead, there is evidence of massive voter disenfranchisement.

Last August, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who closely monitors voter-suppression efforts, reported a conversation with a member of Florida’s GOP establishment, who admitted the open secret: “A Democrat can’t win a statewide election in Florida without a high turnout….of African-Americans. It’s no secret that the name of the game for Republicans is to restrain that turnout as much as possible.”

With the election just a week from tomorrow, polls show Bush and Kerry still neck and neck. Will the country wake up on November 3rd with a national nervous electoral breakdown? In a smart piece in The Independent, Andrew Gumbel wonders whether Election 2004 “could just as easily produce a concatenation of knockdown, drag-out fights in several states at once, making the debacle in Florida four years ago look, in retrospect, like the constitutional equivalent of a vicarage tea party.”

And it seems appropriate that John Dean, the Watergate-era counsel who knows a few things about electoral dirty tricks, has issued the starkest warning about what the country may face: “Only a miracle, it strikes me, ” Dean wrote in a piece that zoomed around the internet on Sunday, “can prevent the election from descending into post-election chaos.”

P.S. The best defense against voter suppression is to flood the polls. As Jim Hightower says, “There are only so many votes they can prevent or steal–a massive turnout will overwhelm their perfidy.”