America's Election Snafus: 2001-2002

Election and Voting Problems: State by State continued

New Mexico

In Dona Ana County, the county clerk and his deputy have been indicted and are facing criminal charges over their handling of the June 4 primary election. The allegations include improper shredding of absentee ballots, demanding illegal fees and conspiracy. Both men have pleaded innocent to the charges. On September 26, County Clerk Ruben Ceballos was temporarily suspended pending a trial to determine if he will be removed from office.

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New York

In Bronx County, allegations of poll irregularities delayed results of two Democratic primary elections in September 2002. In one race, for the state Assembly, a State Supreme Court judge ruled that a new election be held. The same judge is hearing arguments in the other case, involving a seat in the state Senate.

In New York City, the Board of Elections found that about one-third of people registered via a voter registration drive in Manhattan and Queens were not eligible voters. Results were incomplete for the other three boroughs. The drive was for the Independence Party and was linked to Gov. George Pataki’s reelection campaign. The Board of Elections voted along party lines to take no action on the complaint of fraud filed by Tom Golisano, who was running against Gov. Pataki for the party’s nomination. The five Democratic commissioners voted to turn over the information to borough district attorneys while the four Republicans voted against it. Six votes are needed for passage.

The New York City Board of Elections directed thousands of Queens voters to the wrong polling sites for the September primary, miles from their homes in some cases. After dozens of voters called to complain the board said a computer glitch caused the mistakes and promised that corrected cards would be rushed to voters.

In Orange County, election officials are investigating whether a voter drive sponsored by Gov. George Pataki’s reelection campaign is connected to voter fraud. Officials have investigated 85 registration forms that are believed to have come from a mailing encouraging voters to register with the Independence Party and vote for Pataki. Pataki, a Republican, also faced Thomas Golisano in the Independence Party primary. News reports theorized that cards may have been submitted by aggressive campaign workers who were paid by the number of voters they register. The Orange County investigation is similar to incidents reported in Westchester County and New York City.

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North Carolina

The Robeson County elections director was fired after what was described in news reports as “an error-ridden primary” in September 2002. Among the problems: malfunctioning electronic tabulators, improper ballots, inaccurate registration records, and polling places with no voting booths. One voter described the election as a “three ring circus” and said she had to deposit her ballot “into something that looked like a black trash can.”

Problems were severe enough that the state ordered new elections in two local races. This was the third time since 1999 that such action was required due to voting problems. A former county commissioner was named as interim director while the elections board seeks a permanent replacement. A report from the state elections board said that neglect, intentional noncompliance and procrastination led to many of the voting problems. The report also alleged that the county had ignored requests to update voter rolls in hopes of padding them, noting that the state had sought improvement in voter records since 1998.

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In Lucas County, elections officials were flooded with around 14,000 registrations apparently generated by a signature drive to get a measure on the state ballot. Only registered voters can sign such petitions so canvassers often register people who are not official voters. In a test sample, 19 out of 20 petition signatures were invalid, thus calling into question thousands of new voter registrations. Officials theorized that the fraud was the result of canvassers, who get paid by the number of signatures they gather, submitting fraudulent registrations to make more money.

This challenge comes to an elections office that is trying to correct a recent history of mismanagement. The old director was ousted in Spring 2002, following a primary election where several write-in votes apparently disappeared. The new elections staff has also stopped the practice of allowing voters to change their registered addresses over the phone without verifying the individual’s signature.

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