Election 2008

Election Day: Voting Snafus from Around the Country

Election protection coalition ignores vote count issues ... Jammed ballot boxes in Missouri ... Absentee ballot sign-up glitches in FL ...
We'll update this story with the most recent coverage as it becomes available, so check back throughout the day and night -- in fact, just keep it bookmarked.

You can also check on our other stories to find out about what's going on with the Senate, House and ballot measures; hot news, emerging trends, and juicy rumors; election results; and what's going on with Palin and the rest of the wingnuts.

We also want to hear from you -- don't forget to leave us your comments about what you're seeing and hearing out there.


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8:01 p.m. PST -- Before the final vote counts are in, the nation's largest election protection coalition, which ran the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline, issued a statement laying out its new election reform agenda. What was notably missing, however, was any reference to vote counting issues.

That may be because vote counting issues quickly become partisan -- and the coalition is avowedly non-partisan. However, as many states and counties experienced voting machine issues earlier on Tuesday, the absence of this important and final part of the voting process is conspicuous.

Here's the release:
Washington, DC -- Election Protection, the nation's largest nonpartisan voter rights coalition, has fielded over 200,000 calls to its 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline, including over 80,000 calls on Election Day alone. Questions and concerns from voters across the country -- from the hotline, Web site and social networking sites like Twitter -- were answered and acted upon by a network of over 10,000 trained volunteers across the country.
"Today, millions of citizens exercised their fundamental right to vote in a truly historic election. And they were aided by a truly historic Election Protection effort -- ten thousand trained volunteers who helped address multiple important election issues in a variety of states," said Jonah Goldman, Director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "The stories and the data that we collected create a record for comprehensive election reform. Many of these pressing challenges we uncovered demonstrate our duty to ensure that American voters are granted a system worthy of the resolve, courage and dedication to democracy seen today."
Election Protection urges voters not to forget the lessons of this election cycle, and to begin tomorrow to make this election historic -- not just for its outcome, but for what comes next:
IMPROVE VOTER REGISTRATION PROCESS
The most prevalent and alarming challenge to our electoral process today came in the form of voter registration problems. Voters across the country arrived at the polls to find that their registrations had never been processed, that their names had been purged from voter lists, or that they had missed the registration deadlines altogether. Our first priority for improving this flawed system should be to make the registration process fair, accurate and efficient.
COMBATTING DECEPTIVE PRACTICES
Voters in nearly a dozen states today received misinformation about polling locations, times and rules. It's easier than ever to disseminate deceptive information quickly -- and with new mediums -- and our election system needs to adapt accordingly to combat these practices and minimize the effects of partisan tricks.
UPGRADE THE ADMINISTRATION PROCESS
Today in Ohio, Missouri, Virginia and numerous other states, eligible voters were forced to cast provisional ballots because of ballots shortages, and were hampered by poorly trained poll workers, and broken voting machines. These problems could have been avoided if the administration of our electoral process provided officials and poll locations with the resources needed to handle the weight of full participation.
EXPANDING THE VOTE
We saw fewer problems in states with early voting. Early voting takes pressure off the system by easing the crush on Election Day, and by providing a margin for error when testing new systems of election administration. Today's voters should not be constrained to a single day in which to cast a ballot.
7:14 p.m. PST -- Poll workers in Clay County, Missouri, have reported jammed ballot boxes. Voters had to "leave their ballots in a box or on the side of the ballot machines," according to Missouri's KCTV.
Patty Evans, with the Clay County Election Commission, said, "Some people have called about their ballots not being counted. But rest assured, as soon as the machines were running again, those ballots were fed through the feeder and they do get counted."
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6:57 p.m. PST -- Some Florida voters say they were misled into signing up for absentee ballots, according to the Herald Tribune. When they went to their respective polling places today, they were told they could not vote and turned away.

The sign-ups happened when party workers paid home visits to voters and asked them to sign a document that would ensure "their votes [would] be counted should they get sick or not make it to the polls.

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6:26 p.m. PST -- Some of the day's worst voting problems happened in Virginia, Florida and Georgia today, reports the Institute for Southern Studies Voting Rights Watch project.

Among Virginia's many problems, polling places were overwhelmed with large numbers of voters, voters were flooded with Robo calls, telling them false precinct information, students at George Mason University received bogus emails saying to vote tomorrow, and fliers were posted with a similar message. Voters in Missouri, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama reported the same scam via text message.

Florida reported one of the highest volumes of calls to the Election Protection hotline, and registration confusion spiked because of the state's "no-match" list.

And Georgia came under renewed scrutiny for its aggressive voter purging tactics.

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6:05 p.m. PST -- Democratic Party election observers in Ohio are saying the 2008 presidential vote in the state may have been the "most efficient" in its history.

The morning started with a "few hiccups" by machines "used twice a year," a Democratic lawyer said, but those problems were quickly resolved. When lines of voters built up in counties using paperless machines, poll workers opened second lines for people to use paper ballots, he said, leaving average waits of 1.5 hours instead of many hours more in many locales in 2004.

Some poll workers were confused by the state's revised voter ID laws, the lawyer said, forcing some voters to unnecessarily use provisional ballots, which have to be verified before counting. But Ohio has a high rate of accepting provisional ballots, he said, predicting many of those ballots would not be rejected.

Early voting, which began a month ago, also helped speed voting Tuesday. Like many states with early voting, where people voted in county voting centers, the lines before Election Day were longer than today.

The McCain campaign and Ohio Republican Party were uncharacteristically quiet on Tuesday, the lawyer said. During the spring primary, the GOP had a very active observer program, he said. But today the Ohio GOP said little and the McCain campaign's biggest complaint about the state concerned a 30-second video clip of a clearly identified Democratic polling place observer who readily said he wanted to help voters if asked.

The 2008 vote count in Ohio may take a few hours to tabulate. The counties using paperless voting machines will report first, followed by back-up paper ballots from those precincts. The counties using paper ballots that are counted by computer scanners will first count the absentee ballots and then the paper ballots cast today.

The weather today also was much better than in 2004, when it was a cold rainy day. "It was like a spring day," the attorney said.

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5:46 p.m. PST -- A translator working at a polling place in Minneapolis reportedly tried to influence the votes of several residents of Somali origin. The translator allegedly told them to vote for Sen. Norm Coleman.

The Minnesota Independent reports:
The tussles started this morning around 10:30, when three white male Republican vote challengers arrived at the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis claiming that they had received a phone call indicating that Somali translators there were telling area residents to vote for Democrats.
The voters who brought forward the complaints did not give their names. "One man said he was afraid to give his name because he didn't want people to get mad at him, but added that 'it is just not right.'"

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4:53 p.m. PST -- There are more signs Republicans are preparing to contest vote counts if results are close tonight. Their latest tactic appears to be appropriating the language and criticisms of left-leaning voting rights activists who have said for years that electronic voting cannot be trusted.

According to a Market Wire press release, the Republican National Committee has hired a consulting firm to enlist experts to help identify "hacking"of electronic voting machine totals. The release cites how TV host Oprah Winfrey -- an Obama supporter -- had problems voting on a paperless machine in Illinois.

Here's the release:
CHICAGO, IL--(Marketwire - November 4, 2008) - Forensicon, Inc., a Chicago-based computer forensics company, was contacted last Thursday by a security firm lining up vendors to assist the Republican National Committee with consulting related to potential allegations of computerized voter fraud. It has been widely reported that electronic voting machines in many states are vulnerable to hacking by anyone with the right equipment and a few minutes' access to the voting machine.

Yesterday, noted Chicago resident Oprah Winfrey attempted to cast her vote for her candidate, but the vote failed to register correctly.

It has been widely reported that electronic voting machines in many states are vulnerable to hacking by anyone with the right equipment and a few minutes' access to the voting machine with a handheld computing device. The lack of printed voting receipts in many of these systems leaves the election ballots in many areas vulnerable to rampant fraud and abuse.

"If the election returns vary significantly from the polled numbers in any precincts that proves crucial to the election outcome, I expect that a legal struggle over the validity of the election results will ensue," said Forensicon's President, Lee Neubecker.
Stay tuned, this could be the precursor to a nasty fight if the vote count totals are close. States like Virginia, Indiana, Georgia and Pennsylvania all use paperless voting technology and could be settings for vote count court battles if the results are close.

See this map for the voting machines used in each state. Click on the state and you can see voting machines used in every county in the country.

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4:04 p.m. PST -- The McCain campaign has sent out a press release listing states where it had voting problems, leading off with a report that "Black Panthers" stopped the voting process in Philadelphia.

Not surprisingly, the states listed would all be critical to a McCain victory when the votes are counted. Those states are Pennsylvania, Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia.

The GOP or McCain campaign has filed various legal briefs in these states to bolster a possible vote count fight in recent days, however the magnitude of all these incidents but one -- even if they are all true -- would not appear rise to a level of calling thousands of votes into question.

The exception is a claim by McCain that "tens of thousands" of military ballots sent to soldiers overseas from Virginia are "missing." Across the country, there are numerous examples of absentee ballots that were not mailed out on time by local officials, due to paperwork backlogs from processing voter registrations and preparing for Tuesday's vote.

McCain yesterday filed a suit in Virginia seeking to extend by 10 days -- past Election Day -- the window for receiving overseas ballots from soldiers. The litigation comes against a backdrop of record turnout predictions by the state's African-American population, which is largely expected to support Barack Obama.

This litigation is only likely to come into play if the presidential vote is close and Virginia is seen as the final swing state.

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3:37 p.m. PST -- An election protection report from Colorado suggests that as many as 30 percent of the students at the University of Colorado in Boulder were given provisional ballots because they were said to lack the correct voter IDs.

Provisional ballots have to be validated after Election Day before being counted. The students apparently presented their university ID cards but were asked for additional forms if identification.

This scenario suggests that most of the students casting provisional ballots may not see their votes count, because the county officials who instructed poll workers to reject the IDs will be certifying the provisional ballots.

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3:32 p.m. PST -- Fox News aired graphics misleading voters about poll closings, reports Media Matters. The graphics showed state-by-state closings in Eastern Standard Time, which was problematic in states that encompass multiple time zones. The graphic only listed the closing time for the "western-most time zone in the state," which could have created confusion for people watching Fox in other parts of the state. The graphics implied the polls would be open for an hour longer than the time they were actually closing.

Media Matters reports: "[E]arlier in the day, MSNBC Live continually aired a similar graphic that also could have misled potential voters -- even after NBC News political director Chuck Todd said of the graphic":
TODD: And a little guide to viewers. You see this ticker below talking about poll closing time. The time that you see is the last time that polls close in a state. There are a lot of states with split time zone, like Florida. We'll say that the polls close at 8 o'clock. Well, they close at 7 local. Eight o'clock in the Central time with Pensacola, but 7 p.m. Eastern in most of the rest of the state. That's the same with Indiana. It's 6 to 6, local. We encourage you, if you're confused about when your polls close, to go and check with your local polling officials, check your local polling places. They will obviously have the exact information you need. We want to tell our viewers when we'll start seeing vote counts, and that's why we have those final times up on our screen. So, if you need to know when your polls close, check with your local election official.
MSNBC has now removed the graphics.

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3:13 p.m. PST -- A voting rights coalition is in court at this hour to ensure that paper ballots that were issued in Philadelphia after voting machines broke down are counted tonight, not later this week -- on Friday.

Here is the release from the lawyers:
Lawyers for the NAACP-Philadelphia Branch and its member-voters are filing an emergency lawsuit against Philadelphia County this afternoon, seeking a court ruling requiring county election officials to count emergency paper ballots cast today at the close of polls. Despite orders from the Secretary of State, election officials have stated they do not plan to count these emergency ballots until Friday.
"This is a direct violation of what the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth has ordered and does not follow the recent ruling issued by the federal court on this matter," said John Bonifaz, legal director for Voter Action and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. "Emergency paper ballots must be treated as regular ballots and must be counted on election night. Philadelphia County's plans to count these ballots on Friday will undermine the fundamental right of voters to have their votes counted equally with all other votes."
A coalition of Pennsylvania voters and civil rights groups won a lawsuit last week when Federal Judge Harvey S. Bartle III ruled today that emergency paper ballots must be made available when fifty percent or more voting machines fail at polling locations across Pennsylvania. Judge Bartle, who is the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, issued the ruling in favor of plaintiffs who had argued that voters could be disenfranchised by having to wait hours in line due to voting machine breakdowns.
"Voters who cast emergency paper ballots should not be treated differently than any other voters," said Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. "The United States Constitution requires no less."
Lawyers for the plaintiffs include the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, Voter Action, and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady. The firm served as plaintiffs' counsel in the recent federal court case.
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3:08 p.m. PST -- Latino voters in Weld County, Colorado, are leaving polls without voting because ballots have not been translated into Spanish and not enough translators are available to help, reports the Colorado Independent.
Lindsey Hodel, organizing director with the Colorado Progressive Coalition, said her group has been speaking with Weld County clerk Steve Moreno's office for weeks over concerns they had that many Spanish-speaking voters would not be able to vote unless ballots were printed in Spanish.
Their concerns have been realized, Hodel said.
"Some people are bringing their children in to help translate the ballot, but others are showing up by themselves," Hodel said. "And, with less than half of the vote centers having bilingual translators on hand, there are only a couple of options for people. They can wait for a translator to be sent out from the county office, which our studies show can take two hours, you can vote on the English ballot that you don't understand or you can leave and come back later. Unfortunately, a number of people are choosing to leave."
Bilingual ballots are required in counties where more than 5 percent of population speaks Spanish or another language. In the case of Weld County, old Census data from 2000 put its Spanish-speaking population below the 5 percent mark, but that number has grown in recent years.

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2:55 p.m. PST -- A Texas journalist reported receiving a suspicious text message on his cell phone that read, "Due to extremly long lines Obama voters are encouraged to cast their ballot on Wensday [sic]."

According to the blog grace notes, the phone the message was sent from carries an Austin area code, and media outlets are trying to determine whether it is a joke or an attempt at voter disenfranchisement.

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2:38 p.m. PST -- In the face of malfunctioning voting machines, some Pennsylvania residents are being asked to use paper ballots and being told that their votes will be "counted as provisional ballots, not as ordinary votes," reports Lindsay Beyerstein from The Campaign Silo.

This could be a violation of Pennsylvania election law.

"It's possible that poll workers are inadvertently giving out bad information, or that voters are misinterpreting what they're being told," writes Beyerstein."

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1:23 p.m. PST -- Election protection advocates watching voting in Michigan are baffled by what they say are halts in voting in "hundreds" of precincts because computers that scan paper ballots are not working properly.

Apparently poll workers in the affected precincts have stopped the voting process until the scanners are fixed instead of collecting ballots and putting them in secure boxes. The voting machine involved are ES&S M-100 optical scanners.

"There should be no lines in Michigan," one election protection advocate said. "They should fill out paper ballots and put the ballots in a ballot box. There is no reason to have a line in Michigan because of a scanner breaking. Poll workers apparently don't know that."

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12:53 p.m. PST -- Election protection workers in Colorado say that as of midday they have not seen extensive voting problems, saying the biggest issue seems to be voters who have not received absentee ballots in the mail -- causing a high number of provisional ballots to be issued.

Provisional ballots are not counted on Election Night, but must be verified in the days following the election to be added to the results.

The big worry of voting rights advocates in the state heading into the election -- that thousands of voters whose registrations who were illegally purged and then restored last week might not find their names on precinct voter lists -- apparently did not surface, according to voter hotline calls.

Another concern was Republican partisans would seek to challenge the validity of voter registrations of likely Democratic voters. Apparently, there were isolated instances of attempted challenges in small towns, however those were reported and were not successful.

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12:23 p.m. PST -- At midday in Virginia, voters at numerous polling places were experiencing waits of two or more hours, according civil rights lawyers with Advancement Project, which forecast the state would experience polling place delays weeks ago based on the allocation of voting machines.

"There have been a number of polling place problems, mostly having to do with machines going down," said Judith A. Browne-Dianis, Advancement Project Co-Director. In the worst case, where an electronic poll book -- which contains voters names and registration information -- failed, voters had to wait seven hours, she said. Other failures caused four hour waits.

"Paper ballots have not been used," she said, referring to back-up plans where voters would fill out paper ballots instead of waiting for electronic voting machines to be fixed. Several civil rights groups sued the state in federal court to force the state to extend polling place hours and deploy backup ballots, but a federal judge rejected that suit.

Browne said it was "too early" to know if civil rights attorneys would go back into court seeking to extend voting hours on Tuesday evening. A court ordered the state to notify the public that anyone who showed up to vote by 7 PM would be allowed to do so, but Browne said the state's compliance with that order was only to post a note on a website.

"That's not sufficient to notify the people," she said.

Browne did give the state credit for redeploying voting machines in Richmond after a study by her organization found precincts in minority neighborhood lacked machines -- on a per-voter basis -- compared to white neighborhoods.

"Richmond precincts did have longer waits -- two hours or more," Browne said. "The precincts we highlighted with more machines had waits of 15 minutes."

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11:59 a.m. PST -- Voter intimidation is playing out in North St. Louis County, with police circling polling places and poll workers "harassing voters over identification."

Daily Kos reports:
Obviously, voter intimidation in a predominately African American pocket of the metro area (77% African American, 2000 Census) is a very big deal.  At this time, we haven't been able to determine whether or not the intimidated voters are being turned away or being given a provisional ballot.
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11:41 a.m. PST -- The nation's biggest election protection hotline, 1-866-OUR-VOTE, is reporting more voting problems from swing states. Here's their update:
Voters are reporting major obstacles to casting their ballot in polling locations across Virginia and Pennsylvania, which could disenfranchise thousands of [state] voters. Long lines, broken voting machines, ballot shortages and misused absentee ballots are just some of the problems that threaten to rob thousands of eligible voters of their right to vote.
In Virginia, they report these problems:

  • Dozens of polling places are experiencing varying degrees of machine malfunction. Some polling places are either completely closed or have been closed for hours.

  • Thousands of voters may have been turned away illegally by polling workers.

  • Voters have illegally been issued with provisional ballets where machines have been broken.

  • Students at Virginia Tech, previously the victims of misinformation, have seen their polling place suddenly and unexpectedly moved six miles to a location with little parking.


In Pennsylvania, they report these problems:

  • Voting machine malfunctions are widespread and at least a dozen locations, mainly focused on Pittsburg and Philadelphia.
  • We have received reports of campaign materials are being illegally distributed at polling locations in Pittsburg.
  • Voters across the state are reporting that they never received their absentee ballots, which is creating additional chaos at the polls.


The coaltion's analysis finds several other states -- Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Michigan -- are reporting long lines due to problems with registration lists and poll locations.

The coalition's 1-866-OUR-VOTE Hotline has thousands of trained Election Protection volunteers and legal experts available to provide direct assistance to voters in across the country.

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11:28 a.m. PST -- Election Day started with heavy turnout in Philadelphia, where polling places quickly saw lines build and the biggest problems were new voters whose names were not on precinct lists and electronic voting machines that did not not work at the day's start.

The voter registration issues appeared to be more widespread, as election protection officials from the Obama campaign and the non-partisan "Committee of 70," a local watch group, noted that many people who had received voter registration cards in the mail were not listed on their precinct voter rolls.

Calls by those election protection officials to the city's Board of Election revealed that those voters' names were on the city's central voter list, which should entitle them to vote with a regular ballot. However, the BOE's instructions to precinct judges, according to these poll watchers, was that anybody who was not on precinct lists should be given a provisional ballot. Those ballots must be verified after Election Day before being counted.

The impact of this voter list snafu -- explained by one ward committeeman as a paperwork backlog by election administrators in this Democrat-controlled city -- is hard to gauge. At several polling places, the estimate was that perhaps as much as 5 percent of the voters were receiving provisional ballots.

If the vote count is close in Pennsylvania tonight, the use of provisional ballots in Philadelphia could slightly cut into Obama's statewide total -- because the city has that many Democratic voters.

"We live in a computer world, but we are not that fast," said Elmer Nardini, a Republican Committeeman from the 26th Ward. "With this election, because of the number of people, there will be problems... To expect it is one thing. To move on it is something else."

As for voting machine issues, a few precincts in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh saw the machines fail to work at the start of voting. Each voting machine is expected to accommodate as many as 500 or more voters.

However, in the precincts observed by AlterNet, the biggest bottleneck was checking in voters. There were precincts with lines of 50 or people as voting machines sat idle. The state has a short ballot this year, so it only takes a minute or so to vote.

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11:18 a.m. PST -- In spite of large numbers of people who voted early in Ohio, early reports show lines are long and the swing state could see voter turnout as high as 80 percent, the LA Times reports.
Lines began forming outside polling places more than an hour before the polls opened at 6:30 a.m. A line of at least 50 people waited to cast their ballots at a polling location inside a car dealership in the Columbus suburb of Grove City.
Some counties are also seeing voting machine malfunctions and mistakes with paper ballots. According to the Times, two precincts received the wrong ballots and some voters, used to touch-screen voting, were confused by a return to paper ballots.

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11:04 a.m. PST -- As voting continued Tuesday, the GOP filed another legal brief in Ohio to possibly set the stage for a legal challenge in Ohio if the vote count is close in that state. The McCain campaign filed a suit which could have the same effect in Virginia late Monday.

According to the Moritz Law School blog at Ohio State University, the GOP is positioning itself to challenge the way voters who received provisional ballots are counted. These are ballots given to people whose names are not on voter rolls and must be verified before being counted.

Moritz reports:
The Ohio Republican Party has amended its lawsuit against Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner today in federal court in Columbus. The amended complaint claims that Ohio Secretary of State Brunner has not done enough to ensure that provisional ballots are counted uniformly, and also includes a new claim of 'vote dilution' based on facts previously alleged.
The McCain campaign filed a suit in Virginia on Monday to force the state to extend the time period for absentee ballots to returned -- after Election Day -- from soldiers who are serving overseas. If the vote is close in that state, it is an open question if that move, which must be approved by a court, will help McCain. That is because pre-election polls of soldiers overseas are split between Obama and McCain.

Both of these legal moves would only come into play if the vote count was close and either of these states would determine the presidential winner.

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10:30 a.m. PST -- The nation's largest election protection hotline, 1-866-OUR-VOTE issued this mid-day report, Eastern Standard Time, about voting machine issues.
As of 12:30pm, Election Protection has received over 41,000 calls to the 1-866-OUR-VOTE Hotline since the phones opened at 5:30am this morning.

FLORIDA
Voters in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area have experienced numerous problems trying to cast ballots this morning. We have preliminary reports of voters being turned away from the polls for incomplete registrations and instances of the statewide problem of broken optical scan machines in some two dozen polling locations all across the state.

MICHIGAN.
Voters are reporting massive voting machine malfunctions across the state resulting in long lines and discouraged voters leaving lines without casting a ballot. In many cases, poll workers are asking voters to cast their ballot on paper and they will tally them later. Some voters are being asked to vote on paper using magic markers.

MISSOURI
There were multiple reports of swapped poll books (voter lists for a given precinct at the wrong location) in Kansas City, MO. This issue has been resolved.
To review the hotline's state-by-state analysis, click here.