Glitches, SNAFUs, and Skullduggery: A roundup of problems already documented and issues that may suppress the '06 vote

To: Journalists
From: Ralph Neas, President, People For the American Way Foundation

Maybe the critical mid-term elections will run smoothly, and Americans will have complete faith in our electoral system.

Maybe.

Given the problems that have already been documented around the country, the potential for additional glitches, SNAFUs and skullduggery remains high. With millions of voters using new voting machines, close races across the country, new voter identification requirements in many states, the age-old problems of campaign dirty tricks, human error, voter challenges and suppression strategies, the mid-term elections seem bound to hit at least a few significant bumps.

The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition, led by People For the American Way Foundation, the NAACP, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, has a national, toll-free hotline, 1-866-OUR VOTE, available to voters with live assistance from trained volunteers now through Election Day. Voters who experience problems are urged to call the number.

In the meantime, here is a sampling of problems already reported in jurisdictions around the country.

Intimidation and Suppression

  • The state of California has been forced to send reassuring letters to 14,000 Latino voters who received an intimidating flier from the campaign of Tan Nguyen, who is seeking to unseat five-term Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez in California's 47th Congressional District, falsely telling them that immigrant citizens cannot vote.
  • In Maryland, Democrats and independent voting rights groups have called on state Republicans to repudiate an Election Day handbook that advises GOP poll watchers to aggressively challenge the credentials of voters.
  • In New York, GOP lawyers filed last-minute challenges to nearly 6,000 registered voters on Friday, raising the specter of police visits to voters’ homes in a race critical to control of the state Senate.
  • In Austin, Texas, Travis County Democrats and Republicans are trading charges of voter suppression. After the county trained all election judges, the GOP held a private training session for Republican judges only. Democratic activists infiltrated the meeting and smuggled out a "Ballot Integrity Task Force Guide," instructing judges to challenge voters on issues of identification.
  • In East Texas, a federal judge has ordered Attorney General Greg Abbott and Texas election officials to stop prosecuting Texans—mostly minorities—who help elderly and disabled voters cast their mail-in ballots.

Machines and Technology Problems

  • In Illinois, Chicago election officials were forced to patch a security flaw on their Web site after a candidate found a programming error that had made private voter information vulnerable to theft for at least five years.
  • In Tennessee, electronic voting cards used to cast ballots are missing from a polling place in Memphis, according to the Tennessee Republican Party. State GOP chairman Bob Davis, Jr., charges that the "lack of oversight and control" over the so-called Smartcards "has created a situation which could allow for voter fraud."
  • In Florida, glitches are showing up on touch screen voting machines in counties in the center of the state. The Volusia Supervisor of Elections says the problems started showing up when automatic clocks did not reset to make up for Daylight Saving Time.
  • A recent report about the government's Interim Voting Assistance System (IVAS) for American citizens living overseas finds that the system exposes voters to identity theft, creates opportunities for hackers or others to tamper with ballots while in transit and, in the case of some military voters, essentially allows their employer (DoD), and not just a local elections office, to view their ballots.

Absentee Ballots

  • Pennsylvania, California, and Maryland are among the states where higher-than-normal requests for absentee ballots have slowed the process, and have complicated voters' ability to cast their votes in primary elections, or in time for the general election.

ID requirements

  • In Ohio, poverty and labor groups scored a partial victory with a federal court settlement that clarifies and expands Ohio's new voter identification standards for Election Day, and suspends ID requirements altogether for absentee ballots.
  • Indiana will have the country's strictest voter identification law in effect on Election Day. Missouri and Georgia have adopted photo identification laws similar to Indiana's, although Missouri's has been struck down as unconstitutional, and a federal court has halted the Georgia requirements while a lawsuit is underway.

Examples abound. The U.S. Justice Department has charged that the city of Philadelphia is violating the rights of Spanish-speaking voters by failing to provide Spanish-language ballots and other voting materials. Twelve people have been charged with tricking Democratic or Green Party voters in Orange County into registering as Republicans. Campaign “robo calls”&mdashessentially push polls—are disguised to seem as though they are coming from a candidate, when in fact they are fielded by an opposing candidate, group, or political party.

Through the 1-866-OUR VOTE hotline, and with poll monitors and volunteers on the ground, the Election Protection Coalition will seek to assist voters, address glitches, and if necessary file immediate legal action to help citizens cast votes that will be counted on Election Day. The database we are building of these reports—the Electronic Incident Reporting System, or EIRS—will also be used to help us shape our election reform priorities, so that the problems can be addressed before the 2008 elections.

We hope Tuesday’s elections will run smoothly. But if not, we hope Americans will participate in the election reform agenda that is needed to restore absolute integrity and complete public trust to the nation’s electoral systems.

For more information on Election Protection coalition and our national hotline, visit www.ep365.org.

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