Election 2014  
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How Republicans Are Trying to Steal the Election

Florida's voters had the longest lines and most infuriating waits.
 
 
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Voting barriers erected by the GOP more than tested the patience of thousands of people in Ohio and Florida on the last weekend of early voting, leaving voters waiting for hours outdoors in long lines and then stranded in hallways before casting a vote.

In both states, Republicans had issued rules that created the long lines. Local news reports suggested that Ohioans fared better than Floridians, some of whom had to wait eight or more hours and didn’t vote until midnight. (Everyone in line when polls close is allowed to vote.) In other swing states, notably North Carolina, early voters have reported that they were asked for forms of ID not required under state law or harassed by partisan poll watchers, amounting to the electoral equivalent of racial profiling.

Still, it appears that more Democrats than Republicans were voting early in 2012’s top two swing states, The Early Voting Information Center reports. Nationwide, the same pattern holds although the GOP is downplaying its significance.  

In the hardest-hit areas from Hurricane Sandy, preparations for voting on Tuesday were evolving, with New Jersey saying it would allow voting by e-mail and fax, although that would be impossible in areas with no power. The National Guard would create mobile voting centers, the state said. Security experts have said online voting isn’t secure. Election experts say the storm will cut into turnout in New Jersey and New York.

Florida: Shady Doings In Sunshine State    

No one should be surprised by this weekend’s long lines in Florida, where the Miami Herald reported waits of eight hours or more in south Florida—and the refusal of Miami political leaders to not extend voting options. The fine print of state law, which the GOP- controlled Legislature did not change to make high turnout elections run smoother, limits early voting sites to a handful of public buildings. That short list of sites translated into long lines, which was made worse by Florida’s Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott’s refusal to extend early voting hours Sunday. Florida’s Democrat Party filed a lawsuit Sunday, however no court order was issued yesterday. When early voting was extended at a Miami area vote center Sunday, it was in a Republican stronghold.

The worst lines were in the Miami area, where, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow also reported, local officials temporarily shut down voting because they could not handle the surge. The city’s Republican Mayor Carlos Gimenez initially refused to allow one early voting site to let nearly 200 people left standing outside in to vote. That prompted those in line to start chanting, “Let Us Vote,” the Miami Herald reported. After an hour, the mayor relented and opened the center. In contrast, in some northern Florida counties, local election officials gave out absentee ballots for people to fill out and then turn in over the counter, which eased the waiting.

How the problems with early voting will transition into Election Day on Tuesday is an open question. There are other issues awaiting Florida voters. Many newspapers have prepared lists of what could go wrong, The Tampa Times cited several issues: the long 2012 ballot (taking more time to vote); a high number of provisional ballots issued to voters not on poll lists (also causing delays), challenges of voter’s credentials by GOP activists (also causing delays) and confusion at polls.

Looking toward the vote count, the Times said the high number of both absentee (or mail-in) ballots and provisional ballots (which need to be validated one-by-one) could delay the results for days, if not weeks.

Ohio: Long Weekend Lines But Other Issues Loom

There were huge early voting turnouts in Cleveland and in cities across the state, many news outlets reported, underscoring a recent federal court ruling that rebuked Ohio’s GOP Secretary of State John Husted, who tried to cancel voting on the final weekend before Election Day. But that hasn’t stopped Husted from doing other things that could thwart all Ohioans’ votes from being counted.    

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that lines in the Cuyahoga County were long but moved steadily. There are numerous pictures of voters waiting in line, but the reports suggest that everyone who showed up was eventually accommodated. 

The issues that are looming concern the vote-counting process. The first concerns Ohio’s provisional ballots, of which 200,000 were cast in 2008 and of that group approximately 40,000 were not counted. The problem with provisional ballots is both technical and political, according to a Monday briefing by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

Earlier this fall, Husted sent out absentee ballot applications to every registered voter, but apparently 130,000 people wanting to vote by mail did not receive a ballot, the Brennan Center said. So if they appear at polling places, many will be given a provisional ballot. One reason they may not have received an absentee ballot is because of the state’s voter registration database, said the Center’s Wendy Weiser. Apparently, Ohio’s system has limited voter identification options for election officials to match names—not being flexible for typos or street address abbreviations, for example—that result in registered voters being listed as ineligible voters. “It’s the problem of faulty [voter name] search mechanisms,” she said, ading that this problem affects all Ohio counties except where Cleveland is located. That could be a big problem when it comes to counting provisional and mail-in ballots.

There also is a political dimension to Ohio’s 2012 provisional ballots. On Friday, Husted issued a directive changing the fine print on how identifying information is to be filled out on the envelopes for these ballots. He shifted the burden from poll officials to voters. That means if a voter makes a mistake—by not copying the correct ID number—their provisional ballot can be rejected. Litigation over that issue is ongoing as of Monday.  

The other issue that has raised eyebrows concerns how Husted’s office apparently installed an unauthorized software patch on voting machines in 39 counties. It’s an open question whether this installation will affect the electronic vote count.

Who’s Watching The Polls? 

The biggest question is will the GOP voter vigilante group TrueTheVote, which is made up of local Tea Party chapters, disrupt polling place voting in key states? Already, the group has been training its volunteers based on misinformation. In Wisconsin, where some rightwing poll watchers disrupted voting during the gubernatorial recall in June, prompting the state’s top election officials to issue stern warnings, the Romney campaign has incorrectly been telling its polling place observers that former felons cannot vote. 

In North Carolina, the Associated Press reports that the state Board of Elections has received complaints about party activists harassing people beyond legal buffer zones at polling place entrances, including telling people they cannot vote if they have traffic tickets. “I’ve heard more complaints, more misinformation and more what I call intimidation or suppression than any time during my tenure,” said North Carolina Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett, who has served for 20 years.  

In Ohio, the fear is that TrueTheVote will be importing out-of-state activists who will be disrupting the process for things that they think look suspicious—more racial profiling—instead of following Ohio law. Of course, election protection groups with civil rights lawyers that can be reached by phone, say they’re prepared to forcefully respond.

It’s also important to note that the federal Department of Justice will be sending election observers to 51 jurisdictions in 23 states. That’s important because of the threatened voter challenges by GOP vigilante groups in swing states and other states also seen as pivotal. The DOJ will be in many of the largest cities with sizeable communities of color. 

 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

 
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