A flood of voting problems

By Michelle Goldberg
Published November 3, 2004 2:36AM (UTC)
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More than 37,000 calls poured into the Election Protection hotline on Tuesday morning to report voting problems; in fact, the phones rang nonstop during a Tuesday afternoon press conference. "The state of affairs in our nation is not good," said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is part of the Election Protection coalition. "There have been major systemic failures in our cities."

One of the largest failures seems to have taken place in New Orleans. There, according to Arnwine, due to failure of electronic voting machines, 40 precincts have yet to record a single vote. Meanwhile, she said, some polling places in Los Angeles are using sample ballots after machines broke down and they ran out of provisional ballots. In parts of Florida, polling places with malfunctioning machines are relying on absentee ballots. "The story of today has been voting machine failure," Arnwine said.

Election Protection is reporting lots of other problems as well. According to Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way Foundation, the group that organized the Election Protection coalition, men in dark suits and "law enforcement insignia" have been intimidating voters waiting in line in Philadelphia. When a group of filmmakers organized by Joan Sekler, director of "Unprecedented," a documentary about the 2000 election, started filming them, they jumped in a van and sped away. It sounds like something out of the "French Connection," Neas said, but it's really happening. "This day has already had innumerable shameful incidents," he said.

Then there are the dirty tricks that have been cropping up all over the country. In Milwaukee today, Election Protection reports that African-American voters received automated phone calls reminding them to vote on Nov. 3. In Ohio and Michigan, automated phone calls allegedly from the Teamsters Union have been directing people to the wrong polling places. In Tuscon, Ariz., Arnwine said, calls telling people to vote on Nov. 3 were traced back to the local Republican Party.

Finally, there seem to be significant problems with provisional ballots -- ballots given to those who either aren't on voter rolls at their polling places or who don't have ID in places where it's required. In Ohio, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell issued a directive banning people who have applied for absentee ballots from voting provisionally, even if their absentee ballots never arrived. A judge blocked his order Tuesday afternoon but by then, Election Protection attorneys said, thousands had already been turned away. In other states, polling places are running out of provisional ballots or refusing to issue them.

"Provisional ballots will be to 2004 what hanging chads were to 2000," said Neas.

Unless someone wins by a landslide, it's going to be a long night.

Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

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