UPDATE: Shortly after the election, several voting rights advocacy groups released reports or statements detailing problems voters encountered at the polls. Demos put out a report describing how all the various voter suppression tactics affected the 2012 election. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement addressing the problems voters faced and the steps that should be taken to prevent future problems. Project Vote also released a statement praising diligent voters for overcoming adverse voting circumstances.
Despite the concerted efforts by conservative legislators to suppress voters’ rights throughout 2011 and 2012 using a number of tactics in the supposed interest to combat voter fraud, millions of Americans took time last week to cast their vote on Election Day. However, a number of problems for voters still occurred, shedding light on some obvious inadequacies within our voting process.
The foremost issue on Election Day: long lines of epic proportions. In Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia a lack of an appropriate amount of voting machines and too few poll workers led to hours-long waits at multiple voting locations. In Florida, voters were forced to wait until the early hours of the morning before being able to finally cast a vote due to ridiculously long lines, prompting Governor Rick Scott (a known advocate for vote suppressing measures) to call for a review of Florida’s voting process, even though his policies may have contributed to the long lines.
A recent study and a 2008 survey indicate that African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities are disproportionately more likely to be subject to longer poll lines than others and this is largely a result of reductions in early voting. In Ohio, where restrictions on early voting were blocked, early voters showed perseverance over the cold weather as they waited in long lines stretching for blocks to cast their votes. Various Representatives and even President Obama weighed in on the issue, with all agreeing that a lack of voting machines and poll workers contributed to the overwhelming lines and that the issue should be preventable.
Glitches in voting machines also added to the longer-than-usual lines. Electronic voting machines were reportedly malfunctioning, causing vote flipping and ballot presentation errors that resulted in confused voters and the shutting down of faulty machines. These errors, coupled with insufficient available machines to begin with, had voters waiting much longer than expected.
Besides the long lines, other issues arose for voters. Even though Pennsylvania’s ALEC–linked voter ID law was blocked from being enforced on Election Day, poll locations throughout the state had confusing messages about voter ID requirements with many distributing old information that said voters needed a proper ID to vote. Upon being reported, poll workers were instructed to remove the misleading information and not demand ID from voters.
Elsewhere, voters received inaccurate robocalls the night before Election Day. The Arizona Republican Party allegedly called thousands of voters and provided incorrect addresses to polling locations. Information to Spanish speaking voters distributed by an Arizona County Election Department had also listed the wrong date for Election Day… Twice! The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund also brought to light several instances where required language assistance was not readily available to help communities with large non-English speaking Asian American populations and cases where poll workers separated Korean American voters into segregated lines because “there were so many."
Although things were difficult at times, Americans still got out to vote last week, demonstrating determination to overcome broken machines and patience in long lines. Voting rights also had a significant win in Minnesota, where an amendment for voter ID requirements was struck down. However, the battle for ensuring voting rights has only just begun – the Supreme Court has accepted a case arguing that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 5 requires areas with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval before putting any voting changes into effect, a vital protection that has served as the lynchpin of protecting voting rights for nearly half a century. The Court’s decision will have a profound impact on future elections and the future of guaranteeing the fundamental right to vote for all.