America's Election Snafus: 2001-2002

Election and Voting Problems: State by State continued

Rhode Island

In Providence, a number of problems were reported at polling places during the September primary. At least two polling sites were not open on time, one of them for the first four hours of the day. Two General Assembly candidates filed for recounts because of these and other possible irregularities, including claims of malfunctioning machines and incorrect voting lists.

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South Dakota

The FBI is leading a large-scale federal and state investigation into voter registration fraud in six South Dakota counties. The state Attorney General named three of the counties involved - Dewey, Fall River and Ziebach counties. Democratic Party officials contacted a U.S. attorney after coming across problems in the course of a voter registration drive it was conducting on the state’s reservations. The Rapid City Journal reported that the investigation “uncovered the likely registration of dead people, people not old enough to vote and people who appear not to exist.” The allegations have received widespread media attention, but Republican Attorney General Mark Barnett said he was only aware of two possible violations of criminal law and he didn’t “want the suggestion out there that there is widespread fraud when we don’t have any evidence of that.”

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State Election Coordinator Brook Thompson advised county election officials to accept partisan voter registration forms even though they are not official. Thompson advised the Republican Party to stop production and distribution of the forms, but it was so close to the voter registration deadline that he feared that rejection of the form “could lead to innocent voters being disfranchised.” 50,000 of the forms, which included messages from President Bush and state party Chairwoman Beth Halteman Harwell, were sent in a promotional mailing.

In Davidson County, widespread irregularities were revealed after experienced ballot-counters were brought in to examine ballot boxes. A court order authorized a recount after a write-in candidate for a state house seat sued. The court-ordered examination revealed that 8 of 29 ballot boxes had missing ballots, several boxes were not locked, and one box was empty and bore a note reading, “Cleaned Out at Howard School.” Another set of boxes had no ballots though original tallies had shown it contained votes for Republican Karen Bennett. More than three weeks after the primary, the recount resulted in Bennett winning her spot on the general-election ballot.

In addition to ballot box irregularities, Davidson County also had serious problems leading up to and on Election Day. The phone system was not working until midday, so poll workers and voters heard a busy signal when trying to reach election authorities with questions about where and whether a voter was eligible to vote. Polling locations changed for many voters after redistricting and many voters lacked correct information. Some had new registration cards with incorrect information, others had not received cards that were still in the mail. The Tennessean reported that 80-90 voters traveled from their polling place to another location to get their correct information. Others just gave up and went home when told they could not vote without authorization. Additionally, early morning voters at up to eight different locations found polling places did not have materials or equipment ready.

Davidson County elections administrator Michael McDonald said the problems weren’t as bad as the 2000 elections, when voters who registered through the state Safety Department only found out on Election Day that their information had not been processed. However, an election worker in charge of one precinct said, “I’ve been an election officer for five years, and I’ve never seen anything like it….It’s been totally confusing….”

Putnam County reported significant computer problems during the August 2002 primary. A glitch caused the computers to produce the wrong totals, which officials noticed after about half the precincts were in.

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