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U.S. polls: intimidation, electronic problems reported

Ian Urbina
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THE ELECTIONS: An association of voting rights groups that operated a national hotline for voting-related complaints, said it had received many calls. Here, a booth in Highwood, Illinois. – PHOTO: AFP
THE ELECTIONS: An association of voting rights groups that operated a national hotline for voting-related complaints, said it had received many calls. Here, a booth in Highwood, Illinois. – PHOTO: AFP

Voters in some states encountered isolated problems with electronic voting machines and delays in the opening of polling stations, but they also reported many instances of voter intimidation and misinformation.

Officials from the Election Protection Coalition, an association of voting rights groups that operated a national hotline for voting-related complaints, said that by early evening on November 3, their hotline had received more than 15,000 calls, with the most coming from California, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York and Georgia.

Although most were general inquiries, nearly 2,100 involved reports of problems like polls opening late, machine malfunctions and confusion over voter registrations. More than 200 calls involved claims of intimidation.

Increase in misinformation

“One of the most worrisome things we're seeing is an uptick in voter intimidation and misinformation compared to prior elections,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the voting rights and elections project at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

In Louisiana and New Hampshire, for example, voters heard robocalls that said they could vote online or by telephone. In Minnesota, Tea Party groups e-mailed supporters and told them to wear buttons or stickers saying “Please ID me” even though a federal judge ruled that they could not, because some voters might worry that they would have to produce identification they did not have.

Phony absentee ballots were reportedly mailed to some Pennsylvania voters with an incorrect return address. Spanish-language robocalls went out in Los Angeles, telling people to vote on November 3.

Late on November 2, lawyers for Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle filed a complaint with the Justice Department against Sen. Harry Reid's campaign, saying it had engaged in voter intimidation.

The complaint was based on an article that appeared on November 2 morning in National Review magazine that claimed that Reid's campaign had put pressure on union casino employees to vote.

Later in the day, the author of the story appeared on Fox News and said that e-mails indicated a push to get people to vote, not to vote a certain way, and said that nothing illegal or unethical was done.

“Given Sen. Reid's work to strengthen the state's top industry, it should come as no surprise that casino employees support his re-election,” said Kelly Steele, a spokesman for Reid.

In Woodland Park, Colo., a business owner put a sign up in a shop window that said: “Democrats vote on Wednesday,” said Jon Greenbaum, legal director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which directed the Election Protection coalition.

In Kansas and Houston

Fliers were sent to voters in a predominantly black neighbourhood in Houston that falsely warned them that casting their ballot straight down the Democratic ticket would cancel out their votes.

The fliers were signed by a group called “Black Democratic Trust of Texas.”

In Kansas, voters were reporting that they were receiving calls telling them they could vote on November 3 and that they had to have proof of home ownership to vote. A spokesman for the attorney general said his office had opened an investigation.

“Spreading misinformation about the date of the election seems to have become a perennial weapon of disenfranchisement, and here we go again,” said Tova Wang, a senior democracy fellow at Demos, a voting rights group. “Saying you need proof of home ownership in order to vote is a new wrinkle and would sadly seem to be particularly aimed at low-income voters or people who have lost their home.”

Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that her own mother, who lives in Maryland, received a call telling her that she was such a loyal voter that she could vote by e-mail.

Voters who thought they were registered showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not on the rolls.

Dozens of students at the University of Michigan and at Benedict College, a historically black college in Columbia, S.C., reported problems with their voter registration records when they got to the polls.

In Ohio's Cuyahoga County, several hundred voters who had registered to vote at public assistance agencies were unable to cast their ballots because the agencies were late turning in the registration applications to election officials. Jennifer Brunner, the Ohio secretary of state, said that the reason for the problem was that the applications were turned in past deadline to the public assistance offices.

In New York

Isolated problems with voting machines were also reported. By early afternoon, the Election Protection hot line had fielded about 55 calls relating to computer malfunctions in New York. In September, polling stations in New York City reported widespread problems with electronic voting machines.

After North Carolina Republicans charged that touch-screen voting machines were erroneously casting votes for Democrats in early voting, a federal court mandated on October 30 that voters there “will be asked to read a notice instructing them to carefully review their selections and make sure they register correctly.”

In Santa Clara County, Calif., election workers were using rubber erasers to scrub away printing smudges on mail-in ballots. The smudges were causing the ballots to be rejected by the county's optical scanners.

Training for workers was also a problem in some areas.

“The biggest problem we've had reports of so far is that some local election officials make up rules on their own and require people to show photo IDs before they can vote,” said a news release from the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections. “Wisconsin law and GAB policy are clear that no photo ID is required to vote.” — © New York Times News Service


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