Voting's gotten real ugly, real quick

Bomb scares. Belligerent Tea Partiers. Last-minute disenfranchisement. We're already off to a flying start

Published November 5, 2012 3:52PM (EST)

Early voters in Madison, Wisc.    (AP/Scott Bauer)
Early voters in Madison, Wisc. (AP/Scott Bauer)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet In Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, a majority of Republicans believe that Democrats will steal this election and a majority of Dems are convinced that the GOP's going to do the same. It's a sign of how deeply compromised our democracy has become.

Credit for this sorry state of affairs goes to the right-wing fabulists who concocted the specter of widespread in-person voter fraud simply to pass ID laws that depress turnout in Dem-leaning constituencies. Also thank a number of recent Secretaries of State bent on decreasing the vote for partisan gain -- folks like Katherine Harris, Ken Blackwell and John Husted.

Blame the constant stream of BS stories hyped by the conservative media – endless dogs and dead people voting. And the Supreme Court for intervening in 2000. Save some ire for Wally O'Dell and Diebold in 2004, and a little bit for lefty bloggers who turn every voting glitch into a major threat to our elections. This widespread distrust is already bearing fruits, with a series of nasty incidents at early voting places.

In Orange County, Florida, which Obama won by 90,000 votes in 2008, the final day of early voting was interrupted for 3 hours when police discovered two “suspicious packages,” one of which they destroyed in a controlled detonation.

At the Huffington Post, Dan Froomkin writes:

If Election Day goes anything like the past 17 days of early voting in North Carolina, here's what you can expect at your local precincts on Tuesday:

  • Belligerent citizens demanding the right to personally inspect the voting process and yelling "shut up" at the top of their lungs when election officials tell them that only official poll observers can do that.

  • Official poll observers who have been improperly trained by the groups they represent and think it's their job to interrogate voters rather than just watch.

  • Long lines, which means that a lot of people end up waiting outside the designated no-electioneering zones, getting harangued by campaign workers.

  • Shouting matches between Republican and Democratic campaign workers -- and sometimes voters standing in line -- that can involve name-calling, threatening gestures, and the summoning of law enforcement.

  • A guy driving a tractor-trailer bed filled with effigies of Democratic officials, including President Barack Obama, with nooses around their neck. (Federal officials are looking into that one, which took place at an early voting center in Eastern North Carolina on Thursday.)

Police were called when a County Commissioner in Manatee County, Florida, became belligerent with poll-workers who asked her to refrain from campaignig for her son within the no-electioneering zone.

In Wisconsin, they're trying to avoid a repeat of the chaos that aggressive poll-watchers created during the recall. The Wisconsin Journal:

“Some of the observers felt they needed to try to intimidate our workers or the voters, and that just won’t be tolerated this time,” said Diane Hermann-Brown, past president and current communications chairwoman for the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association. “Badgering isn’t going to be an option. There won’t be any third or fourth chances. You’re going to deal with it, or you are out.”

Conservatives have complained the Government Accountability Board has placed too many restrictions on where observers can stand, and who they can question, but election agency director Kevin Kennedy said a proper balance has been struck between the rights of observers, the privacy of voters and the need to keep lines moving when turnout is heavy.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign is itself training Wisconsin poll-watchers -- to mislead voters about their rights.

The Associated Press also reported on the nastiness at polling places in North Carolina:

The State Board of Elections has received many reports of "aggressive electioneering" at in-person voting sites. Candidate and party activists have been entering no-campaign zones — state law requires a 25- to 50-foot buffer at the door of a voting place — to work potential voters and using profanities and other aggressive language with the opposing side, a state board memo says.

There also have been reports of voters being told wrongly they can vote by phone or they can't vote if they have outstanding traffic tickets. Voters also have complained about letters they've received that contain their voting history and those of their neighbors.

"I have heard more complaints, more misinformation and more what I call intimidation or suppression than any time during my tenure," said state elections executive director Gary Bartlett, who's held the job for nearly 20 years. Independent or third-party groups seem responsible for most activities that prompt complaints, which have come from every area of the state, Bartlett said.

The tea party group True The Vote is training Ohio poll workers, in violation of state law and likely with standards different than the state's.

Twice in the last few weeks, voters in Maricopa County, Arizona – Home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio – were sent notices by election officials telling them to vote on November 6 in English and November 8 in Spanish.

Ohio Secretary of State John Husted, who is doing everything in his power to avoid counting votes, apparently defied federal courts yet again on Friday when issued an order that could invalidate legal provisional ballots.

Steve Rosenfeld reports, "Democrats in Denver are worried that their top local election official—who is running for county commisioner as a Republican—is not planning to deploy enough voting machines to easily accommodate polling place voters on Tuesday, particularly in racially mixed areas where Democrats are expected to do well."

Florida Governor Rick Scott has also been a leader in making it hard to vote, leading to scenes like this – described as a 9-hour wait in what is obviously not a GOP stronghold:

It's getting ugly out there. So, be careful, but go vote – voting really is the best revenge.

By Joshua Holland

Joshua Holland is a contributor to The Nation and a fellow with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. He's also the host of Politics and Reality Radio.

MORE FROM Joshua Holland

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