As the clock winds down to what could turn out to be an extremely close presidential race, some election watchdogs are keeping a wary eye on paperless electronic voting machines that are scheduled to be used in several key states and jurisdictions around the country. Paperless systems are basically Direct Recording Electronic systems (DREs) in which voters cast their ballots in a completely electronic fashion by using push buttons or touchscreens. Some DREs allow voters to print out a paper copy of their ballots to verify that their vote was cast as intended. Election watchdog groups such as Verified Voting and Common Cause and academicians have insisted that such a voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) is vital to ensuring the integrity of the vote in jurisdictions that use DREs.
If polling places along the East Coast are without power on Election Day, an Omaha company faces a powerful test. With much of the coast bracing for damage and prolonged power outages from the storm called Sandy, election officials and providers of voting equipment, including Omaha-based Electronic Systems & Software, spent Monday hashing out contingency plans, backup contingency plans and backup-backup contingency plans in case polling places remain without power on Nov. 6.
Slate has an Explainer on the possibility of a delay. The power to change election dates lies with the states, not with the president. “Although states may reschedule a canceled or suspended election at their discretion (or according to their individual election laws), they must choose their presidential electors by the “safe harbor” deadline, which is six days before the Electoral College votes,” L.V. Anderson writes. That deadline is Dec. 17.
With polls continuing to suggest a presidential election too close to call, attention has focused on what some critics refer to as voter suppression tactics and whether they could have a significant effect on such a tight race.
As with most election years, there have been regular media reports of such things as destruction of voter registration forms and allegations of voter intimidation. But more troubling for some are the suggestions that politicians, through the legislative process, are creating laws to disenfranchise certain voting groups. The accusations of legislative suppression are mostly targeted at Republicans, who are criticized by some civil rights groups for creating new laws, in particular voter identification laws, that affect mostly poor or minority voters — a demographic more inclined to vote Democrat.
Voting Blogs: Is The Voter Vigilante Group True The Vote Violating Ohio Law to Intimidate Voters at the Polls? | Alternet
A right-wing voter vigilante group, TrueTheVote, may be pushing their anti-democratic agenda into illegal territory in Ohio by interfering with that state’s official poll worker training regimen one week before the 2012 presidential election. In recent weeks, the Texas-based group, with many local affiliates drawn from Tea Party ranks, has been urging poll workers in key Ohio counties—primarily Republicans—to supplement their official state training with TrueTheVote materials. These Election Day workers are not the observers chosen by political parties who can watch but not interfere with voting; they are the people who are drawn from both parties and employed by the state to run the voting process.
Mitt Romney’s campaign has been training poll watchers in Wisconsin with highly misleading — and sometimes downright false — information about voters’ rights. Documents from a recent Romney poll watcher training obtained by ThinkProgress contain several misleading or untrue claims about the rights of Wisconsin voters. A source passed along the following packet of documents, which was distributed to volunteers at a Romney campaign training in Racine on October 25th. In total, sixsuch trainings were held across the state in the past two weeks.
Deadly Superstorm Sandy left millions of Americans snowed in, flooded out or stranded without power – and the federal government itself in Washington closed – just a week before voters across the country head to the polls. But if anyone is wondering whether Election Day will be put off, the answer is almost certainly no. Local U.S. elections have been postponed before – in one relatively recent example, New York put off voting that had been set for Sept. 11, 2001, because of the attacks on the country that day. But presidential balloting has always gone on, even during the Civil War in 1864 (President Abraham Lincoln was re-elected). Federal law mandates that the national vote must take place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November every four years.
“Voter ID” has become the GOP’s weapon of choice in the fight to keep Democrats from voting, but progressives may have found an answer: Election Day registration. Virtually unknown two years ago, voter ID laws, which require citizens to present a certain form of government-issued photo identification at the polls, came into vogue when Republicans used their electoral gains in 2010 to pass them in states from Texas to Wisconsin to South Carolina. Approximately one in 10 potential voters in these states lack photo ID, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, without which they will not be able to cast a ballot in November. Studies have found that minorities, college students and poor voters — groups that tend to vote Democratic — will be disproportionately impacted by these new laws.
I was on MSNBC’s “Up With Chris Hayes” yesterday doing my Ancient Mariner harangue in favor of the National Popular Vote, along with Yale’s Akhil Reed Amar, one of the intellectual fathers of that ingenious plan, which would allow us to elect our Presidents the same way we elect governors and senators and everybody else, i.e., the candidate with the most votes wins—and would do it without messing with the Constitution. You can watch the relevant three segments. (One follows another, with unavoidable commercials.) Akhil and I managed to squeeze in most of our arguments, but right at the end Chris brought up a question we didn’t have time to fully answer: What about recounts? What if Florida 2000 were reproduced on a national scale?
Voting Blogs: The Identity of Provisional Voters: Private or Public? (An Issue That Might Emerge Early in Overtime) | ElectionLaw@Moritz
Recently I have written about the possibility of this year’s presidential election going into overtime because of provisional ballots in Ohio, and why history cautions against being overly alarmed at this prospect. Here I want to explore the dynamic of what might unfold on November 7 and immediately afterwards, so that we can distinguish between (1) an understandably competitive process that is working according to the system as designed, and (2) a process that is beginning to careen out of control and potentially could fall off the rails, causing the proverbial train wreck. To focus on one possible scenario (we could pick others, but it helps to have a specific situation in mind), let’s suppose—as I hypothesized previously—that on November 7 Romney is ahead in Ohio by 10,000 votes, with 150,000 provisional ballots for local elections boards to evaluate. Ohio law permits all provisional voters ten days, until November 16, to give their local boards of elections any required additional information that would enable the boards to verify the eligibility of their ballots. For example, some voters cast a provisional ballot because they show up at the polls without a valid form of voter identification; these ballots, however, will count if the voters supply a permissible form of ID within the next ten days.
Colorado: Boulder County settles election lawsuit by allowing more access to ballot observers | Longmont Times-Call
Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall agreed Monday to allow observers more access to the ballot counting process during the 2012 general election. Boulder County Libertarian Party chairman Ralph Shnelvar had filed a lawsuit alleging that Hall violated state law earlier this month by denying authorized election watchers’ ability “to meaningfully observe the handling” of mail-in absentee ballots and the ballots that active-duty members of the military and citizens living overseas have been sending back. The case was scheduled for a hearing Monday morning before Judge Maria Berkenkotter, but attorneys for both sides were able to reach an agreement without the hearing.
The Republican attorney who engineered the 2000 Florida felons list, which African American leaders said purged thousands of eligible blacks from voter rolls in the state and helped swing that election to the GOP, also wrote the first draft of Florida’s controversial House Bill 1355 that has restricted early voting and voter registration campaigns in 2012.
Emmett “Bucky” Mitchell IV, former senior attorney for the Florida Division of Elections, now in private practice in Tallahassee and serving as general counsel for the Florida GOP, testified in April in a federal voting rights lawsuit that he wrote the first draft of 1355. The Palm Beach Post uncovered the deposition while researching the origins of the law.
Florida: Second printing error could jeopardize another 500 Palm Beach County absentee ballots, as copying of 27,000 continues | Palm Beach Post
Chalk up another printing error for the beleaguered Palm Beach County elections office. In what some veteran elections officials said is the vote-counting equivalent of lightning striking twice, Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher said Monday that she has been forced to send new absentee ballots to about 500 county residents because of a new printing error. The new mistake is different — and, some say, potentially more serious — than the one that prompted Bucher to hire dozens of workers, who have spent the past week hand-copying an estimated 27,000 absentee ballots. In that case, a header was missing from judicial races, making it impossible for vote tabulation equipment to read the ballots.
Ohio: Provisional ballots could keep Ohio’s presidential outcome in doubt for days after election | cleveland.com
As the presidential race narrows in Ohio, the Buckeye State runs the risk of preventing the United States from calling a winner for days after the Nov. 6 election. A wild card in declaring a winner on Election Night could be thousands provisional ballots. Provisionals are given to voters when their eligibility is in question, often because of address changes or discrepancies. Election boards hold the ballots 10 days to determine eligibility. “If it’s a really tight race, we could be in a position where we don’t know [the winner] until provisional ballots are counted,” said Edward Foley, director of Election Law @ Moritz, a program at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. “If Ohio is held up, and Ohio is essential to know who won, then the presidency is going to get held up.”
Pennsylvania: VotePA: Reliance on Voting Machine Batteries Ill-advised in Wake of Sandy | Keystone Politics
With millions of customers in multiple states out of electricity following Superstorm Sandy, VotesPA is asking how electronic voting machines will operate in the event some polling places in Pennsylvania and other states do not have power restored in time for next Tuesday’s Presidential Election. VotePA today announced a warning that, should this become a problem next week, the answer is not to rely on batteries to run voting machines for all or even a substantial part of Election Day. … VotePA Executive Director Marybeth Kuznik says that “officials in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, other states affected by Sandy have been quoted in the press as saying that batteries could potentially run their equipment through the day”
With less than a week to go until voters head to the polls, Pennsylvania officials say they’re working with county governments to ensure that after-effects from Hurricane Sandy won’t stop balloting from beginning Tuesday as planned. The Department of State is assessing what election-related obstacles may have been created by this week’s storm, with a report expected by today or Thursday. Counties that shut down their offices as the storm approached have been authorized to extend their absentee-ballot application deadlines to as late as Thursday evening.
Afghanistan’s election commission on Tuesday set the country’s next presidential election for April 5, 2014, kicking off a race that would choose Hamid Karzai’s successor and unfold as U.S.-led forces leave the country. Mr. Karzai, who is prohibited by the constitution from running for a third term, is widely expected to name a preferred candidate in the polls, possibly his older brother Qayum or a trusted ally. But with 18 months until the poll date set by the Independent Election Commission, some observers were skeptical that a new voting system and electoral law will be completed in time to guide elections and stave off fraud.
Guinea: Opposition in Guinea threatens court action over makeup of new election commission | The Washington Post
Guinea’s opposition is threatening court action over the makeup of the country’s election commission, whose new members were appointed via a presidential decree this week. The coalition of opposition parties held a meeting Tuesday, and in a press conference following their session, they said that if the list is not changed, they will file a lawsuit, further complicating an already drawn-out fight which has made it impossible for Guinea to hold legislative elections.
Could the deadly Hurricane Sandy, headed for the East Coast, have an impact on the election? The storm is already affecting campaign schedules — Romney has canceled a planned rally in Virginia Beach. While the storm is expected to have passed by Nov. 6, it could leave flooding, power outages and destruction in its wake that would make it hard for voters to get to the polls. Two key states — Virginia and North Carolina — are in the path of the storm. So is Pennsylvania, a Democratic-leaning state that Republicans often eye. Rain showers and wind have already hit the coast of Florida. Parts of Ohio will feel the effects.
In 2008, Montana was the canary in the coal mine. About a month before the election, a local citizen named Jacob Eaton formally challenged Kevin Furey’s voter registration, swearing that he was no longer eligible to vote. Furey had asked the post office to change his address from Helena to Missoula. Eaton asked local election officials to take Furey off the Helena rolls. Eaton did not, presumably, know that his target was 1st Lieutenant Kevin Furey, an Army Reserve officer deploying to Iraq. Lt. Furey had asked the post office to send his mail to his mother in Missoula while he was overseas. His legal residence never left Helena, and his right to vote there never changed. Had the challenge succeeded while he was deployed, Lt. Furey would have lost the chance to vote for his own commander in chief. Lt. Furey was not alone. Amateur “sleuths” challenged the voting rights of more than 6,000 other Montanans, based on a blunderbuss attempt to scan data records for ostensibly suspicious activity. When something looked suspicious (to them), they asked officials to cancel the offending registrations. In Montana, the challengers looked for postal records that didn’t match the voter rolls; other amateur detectives deployed different variations elsewhere.
Three years ago, the Supreme Court warned there could be constitutional problems with a landmark civil rights law that has opened voting booths to millions of African-Americans. Now, opponents of a key part of the Voting Rights Act are asking the high court to finish off that provision. The basic question is whether state and local governments that once boasted of their racial discrimination still can be forced in the 21st century to get federal permission before making changes in the way they hold elections.
National: Spectre of Florida recount hangs over U.S. campaigns’ push for early voting | The Globe and Mail
No American election would be complete without the armies of lawyers that are being assembled by both parties to contest the results and monitor recounts if the outcome in some states is too close to call on Nov. 6. The nightmare scenario of 2000 – when a recount in Florida left the nation in limbo for days – is once again top of mind. The Obama campaign has launched an ad recalling the circumstances that allowed George W. Bush to claim the presidency 12 years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court halted a recount in Florida with Mr. Bush ahead by only 537 votes.
The dead heat in the presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney brings back memories of the controversial 2000 election. But unlike 12 years ago, this time everyone is prepared to engage in legal battle. If the history of the 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore is any indication of this year’s election, we could be heading toward a political cliffhanger. That’s because at this point – a week before election day on November 6 – the race between Obama and Romney might even be closer than that of 2000 between Bush and Gore. According to Real Clear Politics’ national average, a sort of aggregated poll of most national surveys, Romney currently leads Obama by less than one percent point – a virtual tie. Back in 2000, at the same time, most national polls had Bush in front by several points.
Could Hurricane Sandy lead to a constitutional crisis? Since 1845, Congress has mandated that the presidential election take place on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. But no one in the waning days of the Tyler administration anticipated a giant hurricane hitting the East Coast within a week of Election Day. In fact, there is no precedent whatsoever for a natural disaster of this scale before a federal election. A devastating storm, like Sandy, could produce several constitutional and legal crises if voting can’t take place on November 6.
Federal officials say that absentee ballots being sent to U.S. military serving in Afghanistan may have been burned in a plane crash. A top official in the Federal Voting Assistance Program this week notified election officials across the nation that a transport plane crashed at Shindad Air Base on Oct. 19. The crash resulted in the destruction of 4,700 pounds of mail inbound to troops serving in the area.
One of Washington’s favorite parlor games is conjecturing about the remote possibility of an Electoral College tie. Prognosticators have come up with various maps and scenarios under which the election would result in a 269-269 deadlock, which would vest the responsibility of choosing the country’s leaders squarely in what polls say is one of the least popular institutions in the country — Congress. There’s little dispute about what would happen in the main event. Next year’s House would choose the president, with each state delegation casting one vote.
Is there a clear constitutional right to vote in the United States? The answer, traditionally, has been no. That’s what Republican-dominated states were banking on when they moved, after the 2010 elections, to restrict the franchise. But their campaign has seen a legal backlash against those efforts—one that may end up establishing that there is a right to vote in the U.S. after all. Many people are surprised that the Constitution contains no affirmative statement of a right to vote. Several amendments phrase the right in a negative way: the right to vote shall not be denied “on account of race” (fifteenth amendment), “on account of sex” (nineteenth), or, as long as you’re eighteen, “on account of age” (twenty-sixth, which lowered the voting age from twenty-one). But within those broad strictures, the Constitution has long been read as leaving up to the states how to register voters, conduct elections, and count the votes.
With Hurricane Sandy expected to make landfall along the Mid-Atlantic Coast later today, many are wondering how this year’s election may be affected by this “perfect storm,” including even whether the Presidential election could be postponed. Although at this point it is simply too early to predict with any confidence how widespread any power outages will be or how other weather-related damage might affect voting on November 6, it may be helpful to identify key features of the laws concerning Election Day. First, with respect to a Presidential election, the U.S. Constitution provides that Congress “may determine the time of [choosing] the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”
Every so often here, in the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections office warehouse, someone mutters “Bush v. Gore” or, worse, “butterfly ballot.” For elections workers, November 2000 is an embarrassing legacy. For campaign lawyers, it’s a badge of honor, more Purple Heart than Silver Star. Recently, lawyers and volunteer ballot readers have flocked again to this hapless county, calling to mind 12 years of election blunders. If not for 2000, many say, this month’s printing error that spoiled about 35,000 absentee ballots might have gone unnoticed, and the Supervisor of Elections office might have escaped new scrutiny ahead of the Nov. 6 presidential election.
Florida: Lines, scanner problems greet early voters in Volusia County Florida | News-JournalOnline.com
Early voting started Saturday in Volusia and Flagler counties, and to say the least, lines were long. In Flagler, 2,172 residents cast their ballots on Saturday, according to Flagler County’s elections website. Results for Volusia were not immediately available from supervisor of elections Ann McFall or on the Volusia website. At some early voting sites in Volusia County, lines were longer than expected, but not solely because of residents’ desire to vote. “We had scanner failures all over the county,” Mary Garber, a poll watcher with Florida Fair Elections Coalition, said.