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Guest Voces: Some voters confronted host of poll challenges on Election Day

LatinaLista — Civil Rights advocates knew that some voters would experience problems at the polls when GOP-dominated state legislatures began drafting and passing Voter ID laws. One advocacy group, Election Protection,the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, banded legal experts with trained volunteers to help those voters who found themselves on the receiving end of bad information doled out by uninformed poll workers.

On election night, Election Protection established a hotline for voters to report voting irregularities, as well as, dispatching volunteers to those areas where there was a high likelihood voters would encounter trouble. At the end of the night, when final ballot outcomes was even questioned by one of the news networks covering the election, the designated leaders of Election Protection, Eric Marshall and Marcia Johnson-Blanco, shared their thoughts on the election and this nation’s democratic process.

Central Pennsylvania voting screen in which the voter touches President Obama’s name only to see Mitt Romney’s name illuminated. The problem was determined to be a “calibration issue’’ and voters were able to touch a spot on the screen to illuminate Obama.

“The 2012 election cycle is like no other in generations. The number one difference was the nefarious efforts to suppress the vote through restrictive legislation making it more difficult for eligible voters to cast their ballots.

While the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and many of our Coalition partners have helped to successfully challenge these new laws in the courts preceding Election Day, the results of these unsuccessful attempts to restrict voting led to much chaos and confusion at the polls. Today (Election Day) alone, the Election Protection hotline received more than 88,600 calls.

“In Pennsylvania, in particular, the commonwealth’s effort to inform their citizens and election officials that their voter ID law was struck down was wholly inadequate. The state shirked its responsibility to properly educate voters and poll workers about the ID requirements which led to reports of voters incorrectly being required to show ID across the state.

“In several states where there have been problems in the past – problems that included long lines, broken machine, registration errors and uniformed poll workers – officials did not rectify the situation. And, history repeated itself. In fact, in some states – such as Florida and Ohio – politicians actually restricted early voting which exacerbated past problems and created new ones.

“While the devastating hurricane could not have been predicted, its effect on voters in New Jersey and New York could have been minimized if those states permitted early voting.

“Yet despite these enormous challenges, the determination of voters to cast their ballots has been heroic. From voters in New York City who voted without heat and in the dark, to voters in South Carolina waited in line for more than six hours because of broken voting machines, the perseverance of these Americans has been inspiring.

“The Election Protection Coalition’s network of 5,000 volunteer lawyers and 2,000 grassroots monitors have worked tirelessly to answer voters’ questions and solve problems leading up to the election and Election Day. Undeterred by the challenges posed by the storm in their own lives, more than 1,000 volunteer lawyers helped voters in New York and New Jersey throughout the day.

“The Election Protection volunteers have helped so many Americans vote. For example:

· In FL, computers and phones in Hillsborough County were down for an extended time on Election Day. Poll workers, unable to verify voting information, directed voters to incorrect precincts, where they were then forced to vote provisionally. Election Protection volunteers outside of polling places worked with the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office to verify that Floridians were in the correct location.

· In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Election Protection volunteers were stationed at the Board of Elections. Upon hearing of reports of ballot scanners not working properly, volunteers were able to bring it to the attention of election officials immediately so that they were able to resolve the problem promptly.

· Last week the New York City Board of Elections told our legal leadership that they had a significant shortage of poll workers. Not only did our New York Election Protection leaders enlist some of their field volunteers to serve as poll workers, but they were also able to put out a call from the New York State Bar Association urging its members to serve as well.

“Today’s events prove that our system of elections is in need of repair. Instead of continuing to treat the right to vote as a partisan football, as some politicians have chosen to do, state and federal legislators should come together in a bipartisan fashion to solve the real problems with our election infrastructure. As the leading democracy of the world, our voting system should be free, fair and accessible to all eligible Americans.

“Starting tomorrow, elected officials should pass reforms that tackle real problems in our election system, such as cumbersome and antiquated voter registration systems and deceptive voting practices. Specifically the government should automatically register voters using 21st Century technology and eliminating paper form the system. Voters’ registrations should be permanent, moving when they move just like their ATM card.

“States need to invest more in their elections and they need to learn from the past and prepare for the future. Our hope is that in 2016, the Election Protection program will no longer be necessary because all eligible voters will be able to exercise their right free of obstacles.”

The following is a topline summary of items reported by Election Protection (EP) volunteers in states across the nation:


The Election Protection Coalition has seen widespread use of provisional ballots, and many voters are not showing up on the voter rolls in Maricopa County. EP is ensuring that voters we talk to are in the correct precinct. There was confusion about where to vote after they moved.

In one instance, a voter’s provisional ballot was put in someone else’s envelope. EP spoke to the county, who was in the process of removing the poll worker who did so and made sure proper measures were taken to make sure voter ballots were properly processed.


“Poll Monitors” from Election Integrity Project were reported as active and present in Orange County, San Bernardino, and Riverside. In some cases, these people told poll workers that EP were with unions and were preventing EP observers from even entering the poll sites. In other instances, the EIP volunteers positioned themselves right over voters and watched how the voters were marking their ballots, creating an intimidating atmosphere (e.g., Country Villa Plaza, 1208 Hemlock, Precinct 68137).

EP had reports throughout Southern California of poll workers asking all voters to present identification in order to vote.

EP had many voters who could not confirm their registration, likely due to the new online registration system. Processing has been very slow for those. Los Angeles County reported receiving 90,000 registrations on the last day of the registration period.

An Assembly member in Redlands sent an email to folks saying they needed to get absentee ballots postmarked by November 5, and EP got the Registrar to make him send out an apology.

San Bernardino poll site workers asked everyone for ID–EP monitors fixed that.

A poll worker supervisor in San Bernardino ordered EP Hispanic volunteers out because he did not want any Spanish speakers in the room and he threatened use of a shotgun.


In Broward County, voters in precincts L 22 and L 14 – located at the same polling place – reported that only one machine was available in the predominantly African-American precinct (L 22), resulting in very long lines. The predominantly white precinct (L 14), on the other hand, had two machines and shorter lines. After advising the Supervisor of Elections deputy, an additional scanner was brought to L 22 and lines got much shorter.

Throughout the day, lines at polling places in the state were long. Precinct X025 in Pembroke Pines ran out of ballots at 3:45 pm EST. After a short wait, more ballots were delivered. Other precincts, including T018 and T019 also ran out of ballots, leaving many people frustrated.

Precincts A024, A031, 37 and 32 reported that newly registered voters who showed valid registration cards could not be found in the Broward database. Many people were being turned away even though they had newly issued voter registration cards.


In Fulton County, EP found discrepancy between the poll books and the statewide system. The statewide system (per the Supervisor of Election (SOE) website) showed current info, while the poll books at precincts showed outdated info.

What is supposed to happen is they call the registrar, who checks the statewide system, clears the voter to vote, and they are supposed to vote on touchscreen (regular ballot). But the poll workers haven’t been able to figure out how (or perhaps don’t want to take the time) to do that. So they are handing out provisional ballots like candy.

Thus precincts are running out of ballots, particularly as we get ready to close the polls. Some precincts have been out of ballots since 2 pm EST and have returned two to three times only to be told there are still no ballots.

We spoke with Fulton earlier today, and they assured us they had taken steps to correct the problem. We continue to notify them of issues as we receive them, but there seems to be no resolution. We have escalated to the Secretary of State, who is similarly frustrated.


Several big polling places unexpectedly closed in New Orleans, reassigned voters to new locations without any notice before Election Day. There have been reports of many people showing up to vote and finding out their polling center had been moved, causing a lot of confusion for voters.

There were also reports throughout the state of voters, who had appropriately registered and were showing up on the rolls, but were required to show IDs, and then told despite being properly registered and on the rolls, they couldn’t vote because they didn’t have a Louisiana state ID.

Election Protection received reports of Vietnamese voters being denied access to the language assistance afforded to them in New Orleans East.

A number of voters reported strict enforcement of Louisiana state election law that allows election commissioners to remove voters from the polling place if they spend more than three minutes attempting to vote. Many voters very concerned about this law because the ballot was long.

Callers reported that they themselves were yelled at by commissioners for taking too long to vote or witnessed other people being escorted out of the polling place for taking more than three minutes.


In Michigan, the Election Protection Coalition received hundreds of reports of broken machines across the state, where scanners were not working or were shredding ballots. In addition, we received at least 100 reports of poll workers telling voters that identification was required, but not providing voters with the opportunity to complete an affidavit, which is required by state law in absence of identification.


The major issue in Minnesota has been in regards to the constitutional amendment on the ballot, and voters feeling that they are being wrongly pressured to cast a vote. Voters reported that election judges informed them, unasked, that not voting was the equivalent of a vote against it. There were also signs posted to this effect. Election Protection contacted county or city officials, and they have been helpful in reaching out and correcting these problems.


The main issue in Missouri has been voters whose counties have been changed because of redistricting and were therefore required by state law to re-register. If they had not, they were therefore unable to cast a vote. There were also reports from voters who had been dropped off the voter rolls because they had been inactive. Finally, voters called the hotline to confirm their polling places, as the Missouri Secretary of State’s website went down repeatedly during the day.

New Jersey

New Jersey servers and fax machines were overloaded by email ballots due to special accommodations made for voters displaced by Hurricane Sandy. This overload happened despite the fact that many of those displaced in New Jersey never received their email ballots. The state has extended the deadline for submitting ballots to Friday, November 7, and voters were able to cast provisional ballots anywhere in the state.

However, many polling places ran out of provisional ballots, and recurring complaints of improper identification requests were reported throughout New Jersey. Finally, widespread confusion persisted statewide about where residents should vote because of disruptions caused by Hurricane Sandy.

New York

It was reported that polls in New York City, Nassau County and Suffolk County opened late and that voting lines throughout New York City and Long Island were very long. Due to Hurricane Sandy, Governor Cuomo signed an Executive Order to give all New Yorkers the ability to vote at polls anywhere in the state with an affidavit ballot, which voters would receive at the polling place. However, the state quickly began to run out of ballots across the New York City metro area.

North Carolina

UNC Wilmington had extremely long lines (estimated an hour and a half to two hours). Back in August, UNC-W had requested to have an early voting location, but was denied.

In Forsyth County, some party-affiliated judges were wearing vests or nametags that identify them as “Democrat judge” or “Republican judge.” These were not the polling place observers, but rather the individuals helping to check in voters.

Registration at the DMV and other agencies do not seem to have been transmitted effectively to the board of elections. Many callers thought they registered, but were not on the rolls.


Today, in Pennsylvania, the Election Protection Coalition saw two major issues—the first being mass confusion over voter identification requirements and the second being registered voters denied the right to vote.

Confusion over voter identifications requirements in Pennsylvania took a number of forms, including misinformation (i.e., posters and flyers with incorrect information about photo identification) and poll workers requesting photo identification and then improperly turning voters away who did not have it.

While poll workers are legally allowed to ask for voter identifications, it is not required in Pennsylvania, yet reports have come in that poll workers became defensive, hostile and insistent when voters were unable to provide it.

Some voters who were turned away for not having a photo identification were not offered a provisional ballot. In response to these issues, the Election Protection called election officials throughout the state asking that they give poll workers proper instructions and were successful in having a court in Washington County order the removal of misleading flyers.

EP has also received many reports that voters’ names were not in the poll books. The Election Protection coalition believes this is likely because supplemental pages, which are provided to polling locations with last minute additions to the rolls, were not delivered to polling places.

As a result, many votes were cast on provisional ballots. In addition, the Election Protection Coalition also received hundreds of calls from voters who were told that they were not registered to vote, even though the Election Protection Coalition was able to look up and confirm their registration on state websites.

When the Election Protection Coalition followed up on these reports, they learned that in some cases these voters were only offered a provisional ballot.

South Carolina

The Election Protection Coalition received multiple reports of South Carolina residents attempting to vote for President Obama, and the voting machines continuing to reflect Governor Romney as the voters’ choice.

In addition, we received many reports across several counties that residents were unable to vote because they were not listed at polling places, despite being in the state’s voter database. These voters were listed as “inactive” and removed from the rolls, even though they had voted in the 2008 Presidential election.


In the Commonwealth of Virginia, Election Protection responded to over 2,000 calls from citizens with questions and concerns about the voting process. Students and first-time voters experienced numerous problems, with reports of a precinct in East Hampton that typically gets 400 voters overwhelmed by over 6,000 students who voted from the nearby Hampton University.

With the help of Election Protection, poll books were increased from three to five and complained of excessive police presence. On five occasions, this presence was reduced. Reports of students turned away despite, being registered, were also common.

Additionally, many callers expressed frustration with long lines at polling places across the state — particularly in Fairfax and Chesapeake — with reports of understaffed polling locations and malfunctioning machines. Through the hotline, Election Protection worked to identify which precincts were experiencing the most delays and successfully brought this information to the attention of election officials at the polls and at the Board of Elections.

Election Protection is also concerned that provisional ballots may have been mistakenly given out by poll workers who did not understand the new election laws.

Election Protection is also concerned about an alarming number of reports received from voters at Lee Hill Elementary School in Spotsylvania County. More than 60 voters have been disenfranchised by voting in the wrong congressional district, mistakenly filling out presidential-only ballots or being turned away because a limited number of paper ballots were available after machines malfunctioned.

Election Protection is investigating and already requesting a hand count for this specific precinct.

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