Election Day: Intimidation, Irregularities, and Broken Machines

By David A. Graham

Voting problems big and small are being reported around the country -- as usual.

It's hard to remember an election where scrutiny of voting has been so close. From new voter-ID laws to groups like True the Vote to truncated early voting, election issues have been at the forefront of the 2012 campaign story. Both parties have armies of poll watchers on hand and armies of lawyers in reserve for expected lawsuits, challenges, and recounts that could decide the outcome of the presidential election, as well as a welter of down-ballot races. So what's going on across the country? At this point, Pennsylvania seems to be ground zero for problems. We'll keep you updated on reports of fishiness, and if you spot anything unusual, drop us a line.

* Pennsylvania Voting Machine Changing Votes: A Redditor posted a video this morning of a voting machine at his poll location showing that when he selected Obama, the machine registered a vote for Romney:

A voting-technology expert told Gawker that it appears to simply be a miscalibrated machine. NBC says it has "confirmed" that the machine has been taken offline, but doesn't say in what jurisdiction the incident happened.

WAVY in Virginia Beach, Virginia, reported similar problems with touchscreen voting machines.

* Chaos in New York: In the Big Apple, where voting has been disrupted by the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, voters are reporting exceptionally long lines. Even Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who endorsed Obama last week, had to wait "on line," as the natives say.

* Return of the New Black Panthers: After the 2008 election, a furor erupted over alleged voter intimidation at a polling station in Philadelphia by members of the New Black Panther Party, an extremist black group not connected to the 1960s organization. As I reported at the time, it was a big nothingburger -- there were no actual reports of intimidation, though Fox News eagerly hyped the story. Now they're back at it, reporting an NBPP member at a polling place in Philadelphia. The man is apparently a credentialed pollwatcher.

* Unsanctioned Obama Mural: After complaints, a mural of President Obama at an elementary school being used as a polling place in -- again! -- Philadelphia was covered up. Voting machines had been placed in front of the large image of Obama.

* Republican Poll Watchers Barred: There are reports that legally credentialed Republican poll watchers have been barred from polling places in, you guessed it, Philadelphia. The York Dispatch reports:

State GOP Chairman Rob Gleason said 75 Republican election workers were prohibited from accessing polling places in the heavily Democratic city, prompting the party to seek a court order. The incidents, Gleason said, ranged from judges of elections refusing to seat minority inspectors to reports of Democrats saying "No Republicans will be allowed in the polling place."

The district attorney's office says it's investigating.

* Miscellaneous Difficulties: As always in a situation with millions of people out at the polls, there's a range of hiccups. Lisa Vox, the wife of Atlantic correspondent Ford Vox, told her story at Open Salon:

The volunteer who was supposed to hand me my ballot card told me repeatedly I wasn't in the system and implied that I was trying to vote under my husband's name. "There is only one person registered at this address, and he has already voted today," he said while glaring at me. From his tone, I believe I was supposed to walk out at that point. I whipped out my cell phone and offered to show him the website; he told me to put it away, which, to be fair, is the law.

Eventually, he called over someone else, who confirmed I was not in the system, and this shaking of heads continued until another election worker remembered that I was on a "supplemental list." As I verified my paperwork and walked over to the voting booth, the man who originally had tried to turn me away loudly mocked me in a high-pitched voice, "But I know I am in the system!" By this time I was shaking from anger and humiliation, and I turned back and said, "Excuse me for defending my right to vote."

* Provisional Ballots in Hamilton County, Ohio: One of the most-watched counties in the nation will be Hamilton County, home to Cincinnati, because the margin there will help indicate whether Obama or Romney is likely to carry the Buckeye State. On Twitter and on 1230 AM in Cincinnati, an African-American-targeted station, there are many reports of voters who are on rolls being asked to cast provisional ballots.

* "Catastrophe" in New Jersey: The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an election watchdog, had scathing comments on voting in the Garden State. The group said voting machines were crashing, polling places opened late, and workers were illegally demanding identification. It's unclear how widespread the problems are; the Los Angeles Times said it had not seen any major issues on the ground. Voting in New Jersey has been disrupted by Sandy. For presidential purposes, it's a solid Democratic state regardless.

* Erroneous Board of Elections Robocalls: Nearly 13,000 voters in Pinellas County, Florida, received robocalls Tuesday morning saying they had until "tomorrow" at 7 p.m. to return absentee ballots, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Officials said the calls were supposed to go out Monday night, but an unexplained error resulted in many of them not being placed until Tuesday. They hastily arranged another phone call correcting the mistake. But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, was livid and called for the supervisor of elections' firing.

* More Pennsylvania Problems: The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports a range of issues in Western Pennsylvania, too. A judge issued an order in response to a report of Republicans stopping voters outside the polls and asking for ID. Elsewhere in the area, there were very long lines to vote.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/11/election-day-intimidation-irregularities-and-broken-machines/264637/