Voting Watch: Twelve States To Follow on Election Day

Election '08

(Editor's note: This summary, while a little technical, goes over the nuts and bolts of voting that could prompt problems on Election Day or become the fodder for recount fights if the vote is close).

With five days to go before Election Day, preparations and campaigning have reached a fever pitch. Voter interest is soaring. Turnout could reach historic levels. On Election Day, will pay particular attention to a dozen states.

While some (Colorado, Florida, Missouri and Ohio) are clearly battlegrounds in the race for the White House, others (Georgia and the District of Columbia) might have less drama when the results are tallied than they do while polls are open.

All 12 states share some similarities -- regardless of their competitiveness in the national electoral map, they have issues in election administration that bear watching: whether it s new rules governing voter identification; trouble with voting systems , either because of computer glitches, poll worker mistakes or both; long lines at polls; new voter registration databases; or some combination of problems.

This list does not mean there will be trouble on Election Day, but the likelihood for problems looms based on past performance or current events.

Past problems with vote centers in Denver a system that replaced neighborhood precincts with super precincts allowing in any one of a reduced number of super precincts convinced city officials to revert to the old way of doing things rather than risk equipment failures, long lines and chaos that plagued the 2006 vote. And while a third of the state s registered voters have already cast ballots by mail or early in person, lines still might be unavoidable in this Western battleground state. Voters will be faced with one of the longest ballots in state history. And polling places as well as voter rolls will be stressed by an expected near-record turnout, a new statewide voter registration database operating for the first time in a presidential election and a likely record number of new registrants. Purges of that voter list have been controversial as well and a lawsuit over the issue was settled this week allowing for extra oversight of provisional ballots cast by voters who have been canceled from the rolls since mid-May. Officials from across the state predict it could take time to report results, meaning the nation could stay up late waiting for word from Colorado.

District of Columbia
There should be little drama when results are announced in the Nation s Capital Sen. Barack Obama (D) scored a landslide in every precinct in the District in February but recent voting machine troubles, accusations of mismanagement, misprinted absentee ballots, turnover at the top echelons of the Board of Elections and strange results from tabulators will keep things interesting. Long lines and paper ballot shortages plagued the February presidential preference primary with some areas running out of Democratic ballots before noon. A low-turnout September primary had problems as well, with one precinct reporting unusually high numbers of write-in ballots, a snafu the city s voting machine vendor blamed on static discharge or mishandling, later saying the machines all worked well and blamed the event on human error. The Board of Elections, which has seen its executive director, registrar, poll-worker recruiter and trainer/press spokesman as well as chairman leave and be replaced in a presidential election year, blamed problems on one defective cartridge after remaining silent on the issue for days.

Election Day marks the third voting system in use in as many presidential elections for a number of Sunshine State counties, including Miami-Dade and Broward, two of the state s most populous. Optical- scan systems replaced touch-screen units this year in 15 counties after Gov. Charlie Crist led efforts to rid the state of them. The discovery of more than 18,000 non votes in a 2006 Congressional contest in Sarasota County cemented the machine s fate, though recent problems managing an election on optical scanners in Palm Beach County has done little to allay fears that election reform s poster child will have at least some snafus on Election Day. Debates have also raged over the state s no-match, no-vote law, and some advocacy groups have voiced concerns that some new registrants might not get on voter rolls due to errors in databases. More than 2.5 million voters have already cast ballots in person or by mail, with the former group enduring long lines in many parts of the state compelling Gov. Charlie Crist (R) to extend early voting polling place hours.

The state s recently enacted voter ID rules requiring every polling place voter to show a government- issued ID card with photograph will be enforced for the first time during a presidential election. Registration has surged in the state with more than 400,000 voters joining the rolls in the past 10 months alone. New voters and others who do not provide proper ID can cast provisional ballots but must present a valid ID at an election office within two days of the election to have their ballot eligible for counting. Georgia will continue to use Diebold (now Premier Election Solutions) direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines not equipped with voter-verified paper audit trails. The same units were decertified in both Ohio and California in the past two years. Only Maryland employs the same system statewide, though a bill passed by its legislature in 2007 will replace the DREs with optical scanners beginning in 2010. Nearly 1.4 million ballots have already been cast.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state s voter ID law requiring government-issued photo verification at polling places earlier this year. Similar to Georgia s rules, Indiana voters who lack requisite identification can cast provisional ballots but must produce ID at their county s election office within 10 days of the vote to have their ballots eligible for counting. Around the state, 59 counties will use DRE voting systems without voter-verified paper audit trails. More than 400,000 absentee ballots have already been submitted.

Just as they have in other battleground states, Republicans in Missouri have raised questions about the legitimacy of voter registration forms turned in by the advocacy group ACORN. Former Sen. John Danforth (R) cited one instance where he said one person was registered 10 times under 10 different addresses. Along with former Sen. Warren Rudman (R), Danforth heads John McCain's "Honest and Open Elections Committee. In Kansas City, election officials say the system in place to identify potentially fraudulent registration applications has been working and they have catching the problematic forms. And like other battleground states, massive turnout is expected in the Show Me State on Election Day. The state s chief election official, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), who will be on the ballot as she seeks re-election, said 80 percent of registered voters -- 3.2 million people -- might cast ballots.

Not only has the state become a battleground, some have termed Washoe County, home to Reno, one of the key battleground counties in the nation. County election officials have said they will have enough voting machines in place and are prepared for a high turnout based on a surge in voter registrations, especially among Democrats. Two years ago, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by almost 7,000 voters. One year ago registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 4,000. By the end of September that margin had grown to 80,000. Nevada was also one of six states asked by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to review its procedures and compliance with federal laws due to the high numbers of requests to check data the SSA has received from the state. Most states are required by the Help America Vote Act to verify the last four digits of the Social Security number of new potential registrants who do not have a valid state driver s license. Nearly 400,000 ballots have been cast before Election Day.

New Mexico
The state was a pioneer in scrapping DRE voting systems in favor of optical-scan systems beginning with the 2006 general election, well before California and Florida. But the new voting system has not been flawless either. During pre-election check in Sante Fe County earlier this month, election officials discovered a problem with the coding of the machine's memory card that would have prevented the tabulation of votes in a number of races including the presidential race. The state offers both no-excuse absentee voting by mail and in person early voting on voting machines, which began on October 18 and ends November. 1. Nearly a third of voters cast their ballots before Election Day in both the 2004 general election and the 2008 primary.

Controversy and lawsuits swirled around the state s six-day one-stop registration and voting period that ended earlier this month. Republicans say the options should have never been allowed, arguing that it violated the state s voter registration deadlines, though it has been on the books in the state for more than a quarter century. Further, they said that localities would be unable to verify the eligibility of voters using the one-stop system, leading to potential election fraud. Counties have also been criticized for how they handle provisional ballots. The lawsuits have continued throughout October over voter registration and voter eligibility issues. An analysis of the state s March primary showed that voters in some counties who cast provisional ballots were not directed to the correct precinct or were not properly instructed how to complete provisional ballots by poll workers. Voters in Cuyahoga County, the state s most populous, will be casting ballots on their third voting system in the last three general elections, going from punch cards in 2004, to DREs with voter-verified paper audit trails in 2006 and optical-scan paper ballots this year.

Officials in a number of counties have purchased extra voting machines and added more voting precincts to handle record turnout. Pennsylvania voters, unlike those in more than 34 other states, do not have the option of casting ballots early, either in person or through no-excuse absentee balloting by mail. Most voters will be showing up at the polls on Election Day. And in the counties where voters will their cast ballots on electronic voting machines, the systems are not equipped with voter-verified paper audit trails. Some advocates have criticized these systems as not secure and unreliable but election officials have defended the systems and say they are subject to rigorous pre-election testing. Just this week, a judge ruled that counties must have emergency paper ballots on hand.

A surge in voter registrations, particularly among Democrats, has raised the concerns of some Republican officials who have questioned the eligibility of some new voters. Third-party registration groups have come under fire from both the GOP and some local election officials for filing registration forms with false names. There has also been confusion over the eligibility of college students. In Montgomery County, home to Virginia Tech, a press release issued by the registrar stated college students could lose scholarships and insurance if they registered at their college address and not their parent s home address. The state board of elections later tried to clarify rules involving student registration. This week the NAACP sued the state saying it was not prepared to handle turnout on Election Day.

The battle over voter checking new voter registrations data pitted the state s attorney general against the state elections division of the Government Accountability Board. At issue is the state s voter registration database and how many new voter registrations must be checked against motor vehicle another data. In a lawsuit (that was recently dismissed although an appeal has been promised) by attorney general J.B. Van Hollen, he claims per federal law the state needs to check every new voter registration since January 1, 2006 against data in the motor vehicle database and the national social security database. After delays in completing its database, the state did not have cross-checking ability until August of this year. In Milwaukee, charges were filed against a person working for a third party voter registration group for filing dozens of forms with fake names and addresses. Wisconsin has also allowed election-day registration for more than 30 years.

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