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Super Tuesday’s Voting Glitches

Barriers to voting emerge in Georgia and Los Angeles. Other states experience electronic machine snafus, poll worker confusion.
 
 
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Super Tuesday was not just a referendum on presidential candidates. It was a test of the nation's ever-evolving voting systems and there were glitches reported coast-to-coast, with the most serious possibly being in Georgia, where a new voter ID requirement and electronic check-in process delayed voting in dozens of locations and prompted some people to leave.

"I think this is the most significant election administration story of the day," said David Becker, director of People for the American Way's Democracy campaign, which runs a nationwide voter hotline on election days. "We knew this would happen with voter ID. There were long lines, bottlenecks at the check-in table, voting machines not in use."

The Atlanta Journal Constitution 's website recorded hundreds of voter experiences. While many said the state's new electronic poll books, which list voters' names, and its photo ID requirement was not a problem, dozens of people said otherwise.

One such comment said, "Long, long lines, with three women who did not appear to know how to work machines, working on the only three machines provided to the precinct, while hundreds of voters stood in line waiting to vote; waited for more than an hour to cast my vote, which took less than 30 seconds!"

Another said, "The dozen or so voting booths sat empty most of the time while a long line of people waited 45 minutes or more just to pass through "station 2." In the past, paper printouts were used to look up voter records, and this was much much faster. The precinct workers said they won't get any additional computers for November, so it's doubtful I'll wait through what will surely be an even longer line in the general election. What a shame."

Matt Corrothers, director of media relations for Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, said his state had a very positive experience voting on Super Tuesday, saying, "Waiting in line at a polling place is not indicative of a problem with the process."

County election officials, not the secretary of state, provide the check-in terminals used, he said. In the near-future, Carrothers said Handel would meet with county officials to encourage early and absentee voting, and to buy more "check-in terminals." He rejected any claim that the state's new voter ID law was to blame.

"Any lines that may have formed in a few precincts throughout Georgia was the function of excitement at a historic turnout," Carrothers said.

Another locale with serious election administration problems possibly affecting large numbers of voters was Los Angeles, where some poll workers were not aware that voters who declined to state their party on voter registration forms could ask for Democratic or American Independent Party ballots. At 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen sent out a release asking the news media to remind these voters of their voter rights. "The secretary of state's voter hotline has received several dozen calls from DTS (decline to state party preference) voters around the state reporting some county poll workers have not been fully aware of DTS voter rights," the release said.

More worrisome to election integrity activists, however, was the ballot layout used in Los Angeles County. If independent voters cast a Democratic ballot, they had to fill in an additional circle on a paper ballot, above the presidential choice, for their vote to count. The Courage Campaign, a California-focused group that seeks to encourage progressive grass-roots leadership, has asked county election officials to count the Democratic primary ballots by precinct to ensure that all votes are counted.

"I can tell you we have about 800,000 DTS voters in Los Angeles County," said Rick Jacobs, Courage Campaign founder and chair. "So potentially hundreds of thousands of votes are at stake ... This is a voter rights issues. If people don't think their vote counts, they won't continue to vote."

Jacobs said it was possible that a careful count could shuffle a few of the Democratic delegates awarded based on results in congressional districts.

In New Mexico, a potential election challenge might be brewing. In that state, where Clinton won by 210-vote margin with 98 percent of precincts reporting, apparently four ballot boxes representing the remaining 2 percent of the vote were taken home by Democratic Party officials overnight, according to Heath Haussamen, an Albuquerque Tribune political columnist and blogger. Other party officials took possession of the ballots on Wednesday.

The open question is whether there was any vote count fraud. But because caucuses are private, party-regulated affairs -- as opposed to primaries which are run by states -- litigation prospects are limited. Still, the Obama campaign was reportedly sending lawyers to investigate.

In other states, the problems fell into two categories: electronic voting machine snafus and poll worker errors.

In Illinois, one of four states to hold a Green Party primary, at least a dozen precincts in the greater Chicago area did not know there was a Green Party primary, said Illinois party spokesman Patrick Kelly. "The ballots were there, sitting in the back, in boxes under the table, still in boxes," he said. "People couldn't get a ballot at their polling place."

In New York City, there were reports that registered voters names were not on voter rolls in a perhaps a dozen precincts. In Phoenix, Ariz., there were long lines when election officials did not anticipate as high a turnout, according to local media reports. Voters were given provisional ballots, which have to be verified before being added to totals.

Perhaps the nation's most high-profile electronic voting machine failure occurred in New Jersey, when Gov. John Corzine, a Democrat, was delayed from voting for 45 minutes when a touch-screen electronic machine would not work. In that state, there also were isolated reports of voters selecting one candidate while the computer screen highlighted another choice.

While no election is trouble-free, there were some success stories, most notably the transition in California -- with the exception of Los Angeles, which has its own voting system -- from paperless touch-screen systems to paper ballots that are scanned and counted by computers.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen was criticized for instituting the change last year, but apart from counting delays, there appeared to be no major problems. Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner also has told election officials in her state to switch to paper ballots that are counted by scanners. The Ohio primary will be held March 4.

Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org and co-author of What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election , with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).

 
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