Here’s a brief rundown of the various shenanigans and legal roadblocks that may have dampened turnout thus far in battleground states.
In response to the interminable lines South Florida voters faced this weekend, which were a direct result of Republican cutbacks in early voting, the Florida Democratic Party sued the three largest South Florida counties to extend voting opportunities. In a settlement, they were allowed to expand “in-person absentee” voting in Broward and Palm Beach counties (Miami-Dade already allowed it) which is what all those people you saw on Sunday and Monday were doing. (Early voting ended on Saturday; voters were allowed a few hours to submit in-person absentee ballots on Sunday and Monday). The legal settlement is somewhat good news, but the lack of Sunday early voting–which many Florida minorities relied upon in the past–remains troubling.
Tea Party activists have already challenged 77 Tampa-area votes from being cast, claiming voters’ addresses either don’t match their registration, or that they were submitted by convicted felons, which would prohibit them from voting. 40% of the targeted voters are African-Americans, compared to 15% of registered African-American voters in the state. This tactic is mirrored by Florida’s own broader efforts at purging voter rolls, a recent casualty of which was an active duty serviceman. The same “Fair Vote” group that is challenging votes also tried to prevent the NAACP and other groups from handing out water bottles to voters on Friday and Saturday.
Mostly forgotten amidst the talk of controversial Voter ID laws in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and several southern states this year, is Virginia’s. In large part that’s because it’s more lenient than others. But as TNR’s Perry Stein reports, it’s causing problems already. Previously, voters without ID could sign affidavits swearing their identity, and vote normally. Now, if they show up ID-less, they must submit provisional ballots which will only count if they then show up again with state-approved IDs within three days after the election. Of the couple dozen voters Stein spoke with, a majority were unaware of changes in the law.
Fairfax County–Virginia’s largest battleground county, with one million voters–could limit Democratic poll watchers from assisting voters who are having trouble figuring out the new ID law. New rules had prevented poll watchers from talking to voters, before a legal ruling yesterday mandated the Board of Elections send out flyers clarifying poll watchers’ rights to interact with voters. Still, there’s cause for concern. Because of the last-minute nature of the ruling, many precincts could nonetheless enforce the old rules. What’s more, Democratic Party lawyer John Farrell told the Washington Post, Democratic election judges are underrepresented in 55 of the state’s 237 precincts, making it tough to ensure protocol will be obeyed everywhere. And it probably doesn’t help Dems that sitting on the state board of elections is none other than Hans Von Spakovsky, the granddaddy of GOP voter ID laws.
In keeping with the True the Vote frenzy occurring in Tampa and everywhere, really, Tea Party poll-watchers in Pittsburgh are allegedly targeting minority districts for vote-watching purposes (re: intimidation), writes the Philadelphia City Paper.
False ID information
Some Pennsylvania voters are also being asked to bring photo ID to the polls, reports Ari Berman, despite an October court ruling that invalidated the state’s ID law. According to a Mercer County NBC affiliate, it’s to “get [voters] accustomed to what may be a new law.”
At least one Pennsylvania voting machine was switching Obama votes to Romney votes.
The biggest issue facing Ohio is its provisional ballot proceedure, which Secretary of State Jon Husted has broad leverage over. According to the Times’ John Broder, Husted reworked the rules this year so that poll watchers could order voters to submit provisional ballots for a broad set of reasons, once they arrive at the polls. According to the law’s critics, Husted’s criteria for provisional ballots (typically stuff like mis-matched addresses and signatures) will significantly increase the number submitted this year. There were 200,000 in ’08.
What’s more, Husted decided on Friday that voters, not poll-workers, must fill out their own provisional ballots, opening up the possibility for error. And if there are errors? Ohio election officials are free to trash the ballots. Neat trick, huh?
Controversy with Husted doesn’t end there. Last week, it was reported that Husted had installed mysterious little software patches on electronic voting tabulators in 39 state counties, a procedure that ostensibly allows information from county machines to be sent more efficiently to his office in Columbus. (Husted also claimed that the new software was “experimental,” which allowed him to skirt state regulation.) There are several troubling aspects about this development. First, the patch allows votes to be counted in secret. Second, the move did not garner approval from a necessary state board, as several activists have charged in a lawsuit. Third, previous elections using similar patches and voting machines have garnered suspect results. In 2002, according to this month’s paywalled cover story in Harper’s (“How to Rig an Election”) a voting machine company run by a conservative activist installed 5,000 patches (ostensibly to fix the system’s clock) on its Georgia machines. Democratic Senate candidate Max Cleland, who had led in the polls up to election day, lost by seven points. And in 2002, the piece reported, it appears that ES&S, the company running Ohio’s machines, may have flipped the race for Republican Chuck Hagel, the former chairman of the company. If you’re not skeptical already, check out this exhaustive Salon piece on the Ohio voting machine brouhaha.
Yesterday, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Politico that if Mitt Romney loses the election, it’ll be because of “demographics.” In other words, if a representative sample of the population votes, the GOP loses. Which helps explain why Republicans aren’t interested in a representative sample voting today.
*Update #1: The Nation’s Ari Berman reports that voting machines in Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo–major Democratic strongholds–aren’t working.
*Update #2: According to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida voters are receiving robocalls from local officials telling them they have until 7pm “tomorrow” to vote.
*Update #3 Over at the Nation, Berman reports that voters are wrongly being told to cast provisional ballots in Ohio. In PA, many voters are not on the voter lists, and must request provisional ballots, either because of an error or last-minute voter purges.