From the Brennan Center: “An Electoral Tragedy”

By David Earley – 11/09/12

On Election Day, I had the privilege of volunteering for an election protection hotline that took phone calls from citizens who had difficulty voting. To say that it was an eye-opening experience would be an understatement. The day made clear to me that our voter registration and election administration processes are in need of fundamental overhauls.

From the moment I arrived at my call station that morning, my phone rang essentially nonstop with calls from concerned voters. Seven hours ultimately elapsed from the time I initially sat down until I had the chance to take even a short break that afternoon. And I was only one of hundreds of volunteers fielding thousands of calls from voters facing difficulties.

One of the most common issues I encountered was registration problems. Roughly 75 percent of the time, I wasn’t able to find a registration record for a caller inquiring about his or her registration status, suggesting, though not guaranteeing, that that particular person wasn’t registered to vote. Sometimes the person had moved recently and hadn’t updated his or her registration information, while other times the person had failed to register at all. Depending on state law and how far the person had moved (which seems like a particularly absurd determinant of whether one can vote), many of these people were ineligible to vote merely because of a registration defect.

There is no obvious reason to require citizens to initially register to vote and continuously update their registration information in order to vote rather than having the government address these concerns automatically. Once a citizen comes of age — 18 according to the 26th Amendment — that person should have to do nothing more than show up at his or her respective polling place on Election Day in order to vote and to have the vote counted. In fact, I received a call from a person whose dual-citizen daughter wanted to vote, but had not registered ahead of time. Because the caller’s country has automatic voter registration, she was shocked when I told her that her daughter had to register in advance in order to vote. Her daughter didn’t vote.

Another call I received came from a person who had lived at the same home and voted at the same polling place for 25 years. She discovered on Election Day that not only had her polling place been relocated without her knowledge, but also that she had somehow been designated as “inactive” by the state and didn’t appear in the pollbooks. She was justifiably outraged at having to cast a provisional ballot.

The other significant issue I received calls about had to do with polling place administration. Numerous callers complained of long lines snaking down crowded hallways and onto the chilly sidewalks outside. Others expressed concern with confusing voting procedures, citing a lack of poll worker assistance and oversight. One caller’s disability caused her to struggle to stay in line, find her way around the polling place, read the small text on the ballot, and ultimately cast her vote; she was brought to the brink of tears by the end, though she was able to vote. Another person said he waited in a long line and went home twice without voting because his disability made it too difficult for him to wait so long in the cold. I told the man that he could take someone with him to the polls to help him vote, but he said he didn’t know of anybody who could assist. I doubt he was able to cast his ballot.

Voting should be accessible for all eligible voters. Rather than being greeted by lengthy lines, unknowledgeable poll workers, and confusing procedures, voters should be able to vote in a matter of minutes with no difficulties. I personally was able to vote on Election Day without many problems, but not completely without incident. A pollbook worker asked me for “something with my name on it” — which is illegal in New York — and I ended up having to hand my filled-out ballot to a different poll worker to have it put into the scanning machine, exposing my choices for everybody nearby to see and infringing upon the sanctity of the secret ballot. These were relatively minor deficiencies compared to the problems I heard about on Election Day, but they were deficiencies nonetheless. Instead of being the lumbering monstrosity we have today, the voting process should be like a well-made Rube Goldberg machine: carefully constructed, flawless in operation, easy to use, and inspiring to behold.

I was glad to have the chance to help citizens vote on Election Day, but the conglomeration of calls I received laid bare to me the inadequacy of our current election system. As President Obama said in his victory speech regarding long lines at polling places, “we have to fix that.” We, as a nation, need to fix our voting registration procedures and our voting processes. Failing to do so threatens the legitimacy of election results and, indeed, our democracy itself. The rightness of having the authority to govern stems directly from all voters’ voices being able to be heard at the ballot box. A government based upon anything other than the will of the people is truly a tragedy.

Read the original blog post from the Brennan Center here.

Thank You!

Election Day has finally come and gone and here at AFGE Defends Democracy we want to extend our sincerest “Thank you!” to our readers and volunteers!

Because of your interest in furthering democracy and supporting voting rights, AFGE Defends Democracy has been a complete success!

Thank you for reading this blog and our other content on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you volunteering to be poll workers and poll monitors on Election Day. Thank you for attending informational forums at AFGE training sessions.

But the fight for voting rights is not over. On Election Day, many people were turned away at the polls for not having the right IDs and many more could not access the polls due to lack of early voting, long lines at the polls, lack of transportation or other problems.

Stay tuned to AFGE Defends Democracy to learn more about the continued fight to protect the vote even now that the election is over and let us know in the comments section if there is other content you would like to see more of or subjects you would like us to cover. Enjoy the upcoming three day weekend!

How Voter ID Affected the Election and Voters

Election Day Lawsuits Targeted Voter ID Confusion, Ballots

By Sophia Pearson, Tom Schoenberg and Andrew Harris, ©2012 Bloomberg News
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Nov. 7 (Bloomberg) — People outside a polling place near Pittsburgh were barred from asking voters for ID, a New Jersey judge was asked to extend deadlines for victims of Hurricane Sandy and an Ohio congressional candidate lost a bid to bar electronic vote machines he deemed at risk of tampering.

A Philadelphia judge even ordered that a mural of President Barack Obama at an elementary school be covered up.

These were just a few of a series of Election Day cases lodged in courts across the country yesterday as voting in the presidential contest headed toward its denouement. Voter ID laws were the source of the majority of complaints, said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Obama defeated former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, winning at least 303 electoral votes with 270 needed for victory. With Florida as the only state left to be decided, Romney had 206 electoral votes.

A hotline set up by voter rights advocacy groups had more than 71,000 calls, she said. Most came from California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, with “trend lines” showing major voter confusion where there are voter ID rules. Pennsylvania is one of nine states that passed laws requiring voters show state-issued ID. Seventeen states passed laws requiring voters to present some kind of photo ID. On Oct. 2, a Pennsylvania judge barred officials from requiring ID to vote, though they are allowed to ask for it.

Voter Identification

Pennsylvania voters complained of being denied the right to vote in Bucks and Delaware counties because they didn’t have government-issued ID, Arnwine said. Others may have been secretly purged from voter rolls, she said, citing complaints by voters being turned away from precincts they’ve voted at before because they are no longer listed.

Yesterday, Democrats in Pennsylvania complained of people outside polls in the Pittsburgh area harassing prospective voters by seeking identification.

“Individuals outside of the polls are prohibited from questioning, obstructing, interrogating or asking about any form of identification and/or demanding any form of identification from any prospective voter,” Judge Guido DeAngelis said yesterday, according to a stamped copy of the ruling provided by a Democratic Party lawyer. The order couldn’t be confirmed in court records.

State Republicans

Valerie Caras, a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, didn’t return a call yesterday seeking comment on the order.

In New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties Union chapter there failed in its bid to get a judge to extend access to ballots for people displaced by Hurricane Sandy. Alexander Shalom, an ACLU attorney, appeared in Superior Court in Newark on behalf of voters who applied to election officials by e-mail or fax machine for access to a ballot and hadn’t received a response, ACLU spokeswoman Katie Wang said in a phone interview.

The organization wants voters to be able to use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, Wang said.

After the storm displaced thousands of residents last week, New Jersey said that residents had until 5 p.m. yesterday to e- mail or fax the state’s 21 county clerks for a ballot. The clerks must process those requests by Nov. 9 at noon, and voters must return their ballot that day by 8 p.m. The ACLU said yesterday a judge rejected their request.

Automated Calls

In Pinellas County, Florida, more than 12,000 voters received automated messages from the county elections office yesterday saying they had until tonight at 7 p.m. to vote, according to Linda Walburn, an office spokeswoman. The election office later called back with the correct information.

In Washington, a malfunction with an automated phone system resulted in a handful of residents receiving calls from the Democratic Party telling them to go to the polls today, according to Tania Jackson, a spokeswoman for the local Democratic Party. The party followed up with new calls that provided the correct information, Jackson said.

In Columbus, Ohio, yesterday, a Green Party candidate for one of the state’s 16 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives lost a court bid to block the use of electronic voting machines there that he claimed were susceptible to tampering.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost denied the request by Robert Fitrakis, who’s running in a congressional district covering parts of the city. Fitrakis alleged in court papers that electronic voting software contains a “back door” through which vote tallies from elections could be manipulated.

Voter ID Laws

The campaign has been marked by at least two dozen lawsuits in states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida where Republican-dominated legislatures pushed through rules limiting voter access by measures including photo ID rules and poll hour limits.

In Hamilton County, Ohio, reports from at least four precincts included complaints by voters who said they were told they must vote provisionally because their addresses on photo IDs didn’t match voter registration, Arnwine said. She said they contacted county election officials requesting that they send an alert to all the precincts in the county that this was illegal.

“They have refused to do so despite our direct request,” she said.

In another lawsuit in Ohio, lawyers for a union and homeless coalition who sued the secretary of state over provisional ballots asked a federal judge to clarify which of those ballots would be counted. A hearing on the request is set for today in Columbus.

Provisional ballots in Ohio will be counted at public meetings held from Nov. 17 to Nov. 21, U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley said in a court filing Nov. 5.

Read the full article here.

Voting Booth Turns Vote for Obama into Vote for Romney

A Pennsylvania electronic voting machine has been taken out of service after being captured on video changing a vote for President Obama into one for Mitt Romney, NBC News has confirmed.

The video was first posted on Youtube by user “centralpavoter.” It shows a voter’s finger repeatedly pressing the button for Obama, but a check mark coming up next to Romney’s name.

Read the article here.

If you encounter any problems at the voting booth, tell the election officials immediately and call 866-OUR-VOTE.

Want to double check to make sure you are registered and able to vote?

Go to to find out if you are register to vote and for more information about voting.

Remember, today is the day–GO VOTE. If you encounter problems at the polls, contact 866-OUR-VOTE.

Read these voter checklists before going to the polls!

Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition formed to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process,  has provided U.S. citizens with 50 state voter checklists.  These one-pagers have information on the top 8-10 things voters need to know before going to the polls today.

Check out the voter checklist for Virginia below and click here to find the checklist for your state.

REMEMBER, EXPECT VOTING LINES TO BE LONG. COME PREPARED WITH INFORMATION, SNACKS, AND WATER. Also, feel free to ask an election worker for a sample ballot while you wait so that you can vote quickly.

Important information for New Jersey members affected by Hurricane Sandy


In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there are options to make it easier for New Jerseyans to vote in this election.  In this important election, if you are capable of voting, we strongly encourage you to do so.  You can find out the location of your polling place by texting the word “where” to 877-877 and following the reply prompts.

You can also vote by going to your County Clerk’s office today between 8:30 am and 4 pm and on Election Day between 8:30 am and 3 pm.  You can find the list of county clerk offices and information here:

On Election Day, if you are displaced as a result of the hurricane, you will be able to go to any open polling location in the state of New Jersey and cast a Provisional Ballot.

If you’ve been displaced as a result of the Hurricane, and cannot reach a polling place, you can vote by email or by fax by requesting a mail in ballot.  This is a process the state already uses for military personnel stationed overseas.  To vote electronically, voters may submit a mail-in ballot application either by e-mail or fax to their county clerk on or before 5:00PM on November 6th. Once an application is approved, the clerk will electronically send a ballot to the voter by either fax or e-mail in accordance with the voter’s preference. Voters must return their electronic ballot – by fax or email – no later than November 6, 2012, at 8 p.m.  Voters can download a mail-in ballot application at the following link:

Need help voting or reporting problems at the polls? Contact 866-OUR-VOTE

Election Day is tomorrow! Many people have already voted early or absentee, but for those of you heading to the polls tomorrow, Election Protection has provided a voting tool to make things easier. Considering all the talk of new laws this year, there’s bound to be confusion at the polls.

Our Vote Live, a free tool from the Election Protection Coalition, the New Organizing Institute Education Fund, Craig Newmark’s craigconnects, and Ushahidi, is an easy and accessible way for voters to report any issues at the polls in real time, and get help from trained volunteers at the Election Protection Coalition. Here are some features of the app:

  • Report problems and submit questions – using mobile, your web browser, or a good old fashioned call to 866-OUR-VOTE, you can contact election protection volunteers if you run into problems at the polls.
  • Get quick answers! Trained volunteers have access to the necessary data, including polling place information and local election rules and regulations, so they can help address problems in real time.
  • Help your voters. Poll watchers can use this resource to help if there’s an issue at the polls they’re not prepared to address, and also to report issues into our database.
  • See problems as they are reported. As reports are filed, the data will be visually displayed on an interactive online map and timeline. Organizers can use this to see where problems are occurring, and adjust your programs to help in high-incident areas.

Content courtesy of the New Organizing Institute.

From The Nation: “How Hurricane Sandy Will Impact the Election”

Ari Berman
November 1, 2012

Thanks to a wave of new voting restrictions passed by Republicans, the 2012 election was already shaping up to be pretty chaotic before the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, which left 8.2 million households without power in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

The good news? All of these states should have power mostly restored by Tuesday. The bad news? Many of these states will still experience the potential for serious problems, either on Election Day or the days proceeding (early voting has already begun in a number of states affected by the storm). Problems could include: electronic voting machines without power and a shortage of backup paper ballots; polling places without power, damaged or moved; voters unable to reach their polling place or unable to mail in an absentee ballot by the deadline; election administration unprepared to deal with a multitude of new, unforeseen complications.

“There’s no manual for how to run an election in the wake of a natural disaster,” says Eric Marshall, director of legal mobilization for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “The storm creates a whole other set of complications. Before you had questions of: Did people have the right ID to vote? Would they be challenged at the polling place? Would they be on the voting rolls? Now you have another set of questions: Will there be electricity to power the voting machines? Are some of the polling places damaged? Can they relocate polling places in advance? Can people get to the polling place? Will there be less people voting because they have other concerns to deal with?”

As of Wednesday, power outages were the most severe in New Jersey (2.4 million homes and businesses without power), New York (1.9 million) and Pennsylvania (1.2 million). Sandy could depress Obama’s turnout in large blue states like New Jersey and New York, affecting the president’s popular vote total, while impacting the results in crucial battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Let’s start with Pennsylvania. According to The Washington Post: “In Pennsylvania, officials said that getting all the polls open in all sixty-seven counties on Election Day may be problematic. About 1.2 million customers in Pennsylvania lost power in the storm, and utilities warned that full restoration might be more than a week away. All of the nine counties with the bulk of the power losses went for Obama in 2008.”

And on to Virginia. “Nine Virginia communities—including several in Northern Virginia that were key to President Obama’s victory in the commonwealth in 2008—remained closed for in-person absentee voting Tuesday in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,” reported the Post.

At least six states hit by the storm (Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia, West Virginia) use electronic voting machines with limited paper ballot backups. “In those locations, unless they have enough emergency paper ballots printed up to accommodate the entire electorate at precincts where power remains disrupted on Election Day, there could be very serious and unprecedented problems,” reports Brad Friedman of The Brad Blog. Friedman noted that in Pennsylvania, “in case of power loss, local election officials are encouraged to keep enough paper ballots on hand for 20 and 25 percent of their registered voters,” reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That seems woefully inadequate given the magnitude of the storm.

States impacted by Sandy could extend polling hours on Election Day or during early voting. But any vote cast during extended hours within ten days of the election must be done via provisional ballot, notes Rick Hasen, author of The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown. In 2008, 31 percent of the 2.1 million provisional ballots cast nationwide were not counted.

Hasen is urging states affected by the storm to print as many backup paper ballots as possible, open as many polling places as feasible, and ensure that all locations have power through the night. “We haven’t had anything like this in recent memory, on this scale,” he says.

Regardless of who wins the election, the most important part of the electoral process is that every eligible vote is counted. The integrity of the election was already under siege due to GOP voter suppression laws. Hopefully, Sandy won’t make a bad situation even worse.

Read the original article from The Nation here.

Storm causes voting changes in Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania

From the Wall Street Journal: Storm Prompts Shifts in Voting Procedures
Election Officials Grapple with Power Outages, Floods as Vote Approaches; Return to Paper Ballots Under Consideration

By Naftali Bendavid and Michael Crittenden

Elections officials across the Northeast scrambled Tuesday to figure out how to proceed with voting next week given widespread flooding, damaged roads and power outages.

Elections officials across the Northeast scrambled Tuesday to figure out how to proceed with voting next week given widespread flooding, damaged roads and power outages.

With Election Day one week away, New York officials said they might have to change some polling sites. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy postponed a voter-registration deadline to Thursday from Tuesday. Maryland officials were considering the use of paper ballots if some of the state’s electronic voting machines are unusable.

But many state leaders said it was tough to make decisions about polling places and hours until the extent of the damage becomes clearer.

“My concern is people won’t be able to get to polling places if roads are blocked,” said Peggy Reeves, Connecticut’s director of elections. “The election has to go on, and we have to figure out a way to do it.”

John Conklin, a spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections, said local boards were still figuring out which poll sites might lack power, be inaccessible or structurally unsound. Once that is done, Mr. Conklin said, alternate polling stations could be set up if necessary.

One possible adjustment is to consolidate polling places. That, in turn, could lead to longer lines, given the high turnout expected.

States also may lengthen voting hours if circumstances warrant, but they may not extend voting beyond Election Day unless Congress allows it, which seems unlikely.

Several states have faced election disputes in recent years, but they have had to do with human controversies rather than natural disasters. Florida was famously embroiled in a recount in 2000, and other states, including Ohio, have faced debates over how long to keep open polling places due to long lines.

The situation is something of a novelty, and officials were struggling Tuesday with the prospect that a hard-fought, razor-thin presidential election would face the final twist of being affected by flooding and outages. Still, no one was suggesting the election outcome would be affected.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it intends to reimburse municipalities if they need to obtain generators or relocate polling places.

Absentee ballots and early voting already have been curtailed in some areas. In Delaware, the New Castle office of the state Commissioner of Elections announced that absentee voting would not be available Tuesday due to the storm.

In Connecticut, the state said that if their town halls were closed due to the storm, local officials should try to get into the buildings, remove absentee ballots and dispense them elsewhere.

Maryland officials extended the state’s early-voting period an extra day, to Friday, after it was canceled Monday and Tuesday due to the storm, said Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator for the Maryland State Board of Elections. State officials on Tuesday afternoon also extended until Wednesday the deadline for requesting absentee ballots.

Maryland uses touch-screen voting machines, but Mr. Goldstein said printed ballots are ready if necessary in areas affected by the storm. Their use could cause a delay in counting votes because they cannot be read by optical scanners.

“People might be frustrated by the timing of the results, but everyone would have a chance to vote,” Mr. Goldstein said.

But many state officials Tuesday said they still were figuring out the damage to polling sites. “The individual counties make the call,” said Ron Ruman, spokesman for Pennsylvania’s Department of State.

Pennsylvania officials recommend that counties have enough paper ballots for 20% to 25% of expected voters, Mr. Ruman said, who added that many of the touch-screen voting machines could run on battery power for at least part of Election Day.

That could result in local officials alternating use of battery-powered touch-screen machines with paper ballots. “We’re hopeful we can run a normal election,” Mr. Ruman said.

Utility companies know the polling locations and dispatch repair crews to them after restoring power to top-priority locations such as hospitals, Mr. Ruman said.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose state was hit hard by Sandy, said at a news conference Tuesday that Election Day isn’t a concern of his right now. He said he would ask Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno for an assessment closer to next Tuesday.

“I don’t give a damn about Election Day,” Mr. Christie said. “It doesn’t matter a lick to me at the moment. I’ve got much bigger fish to fry than that, and so do the people of the state of New Jersey.”

Read the original article from the Wall Street Journal here.


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