On Election Day, electionline.org paid particular attention to 12 states, identified as ones to watch for potential voting troubles.
I. In Focus This Week
Twelve states we watched on Election Day
Minor problems, but no major issues
By M. Mindy Moretti
On Election Day, electionline.org paid particular attention to 12 states, identified as ones to watch for potential voting troubles. While some (Colorado, Florida, Missouri and Ohio) were battlegrounds in the race for the White House, others (Georgia and the District of Columbia) had less drama when the results were tallied than they did while officials were counting ballots.
All 12 states shared some similarities regardless of their competitiveness in the national electoral picture. They had issues in election administration that bore watching: whether it was new rules governing voter identification; trouble with voting systems , either because of computer problems, poll worker mistakes or both; anticipated long lines at polls; new voter registration databases; or some combination of problems.
Overall, while there were reports of scattered problems on Election Day in each state – as well as problems tabulating the ballots afterwards – like most of the rest of the nation on Election Day, things went well in the 12 states to watch.
Past problems with vote centers in Denver, large polling places where any voter in the county could cast their precinct ballot, convinced city officials to revert to neighborhood precinct-based voting rather risk a repeat of the equipment failures, long lines and chaos that plagued the 2006 vote. And for the most part, problems were averted, not only in the Mile-High City, but throughout Colorado on Election Day. The biggest hold up was during tabulating, delayed in some jurisdictions because of the high number of mail-in ballots that were received as well as the number of pages of each ballot. In Boulder County, a problem with “ paper dust” caused the optical scanners to clog and considerably slowed the counting process. It took them 69 hours after the polls closed, but the county was finally able to complete the count on November 7.
District of Columbia
Overall, voting on Election Day went smoothly in the Nation’s capital despite scattered reports of people receiving incorrect ballots. Still recovering from problems with the low-turnout September primary, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) took its time releasing results on election night. Final results — which only included Election Day votes — weren’t posted on the Board’s Web site until after 1 a.m. and there was confusion amongst call-takers at the Mayor’s Citywide Call Center as to just when results would be released. Although the DCBOEE has 10-days to certify the election, a press release indicated absentee ballots would be counted and results posted beginning early this week. As of press time, no absentee or provisional results have been posted on the Board’s Web site.
Things did not go perfectly in the Sunshine State on Election Day, but compared to previous elections, things went pretty well for the voters who waited until November 4 to cast their ballots. Secretary of State Kurt Browning (R) gave the day a 9 (out of 10). “This is a great day for Florida elections,” Browning said at a press conference on election night. “We have moved very far away from 2000.” While there were lines — nearly 8 million Floridians cast ballots — and machine malfunctions during the voting process, the biggest problems occurred after the polls had closed. In particular, it took Hillsborough County several days to count its ballots leaving the supervisor of elections race hanging in the balance. The county was finally able to complete the count Thursday night and results showed that incumbent Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson had been defeated. For Palm Beach County, probably the most significant news on Election Day was the lack of news. In Miami-Dade, the county canvassing board only accepted 981 out of 2,791 provisional ballots cast; however, only a few of the discarded ballots involved the state’s ‘no match no vote’ law.
Few problems were reported with the state’s voter ID rule or direct-recording electronic voting machines. In fact, many voters found shorter lines at the polling places on Election Day than they did during the early-voting process. Some Georgia voters found themselves unable to cast ballots on Election Day because of voter inactivity in previous elections. In Fulton County, it took 53 hours after the polls closed to complete absentee vote counting The lengthy delay drew criticism from the Georgia’s top election official. Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) threatened to report the county’s election operation to the state Election Board for releasing workers before their work was done. Matt Carrothers, Handel’s spokesman, said the delay was caused by Fulton County’s policies, staffing and procedures. In Cobb County, of the 315,000 ballots cast, only 227 people were asked to provide proof of citizenship with 66 outstanding at week’s end. Of course just because Election Day has come and gone now in Georgia doesn’t mean the work and the voting is over. The state is expecting a holiday-time runoff for a U.S. Senate seat.
Although long lines formed throughout the Hoosier State on Election Day, few problems were reported with balloting or the state’s mandatory photo ID law and even Lake County, which had been plagued with counting problems during the primary, was able to report results sooner than expected. Some problems did arise with the state’s voter ID law including reports of many college-aged voters who were unaware of the law and therefore unable to cast a ballot. In Delaware County, where the last ballot was finally cast three hours after the polls closed, officials believe an early voting center would have helped ease the lines. In Marion County, about 2,100 absentee ballots went astray, but were all ultimately accounted for and counted. In Allen County, data cards from several machines could not be read at the precinct level on election night so they had to be transferred to the county headquarters.
The Show-Me State was another hotly contested battleground state with a history of voting problems, but like much of the country saw few problems materialize on Election Day. There were polling issues in parts of St. Louis where some voters waited up to five hours to cast a ballot. In Kansas City, the poll books were sent to the wrong polling places, tying up voting in the early part of the day. With nearly 3 million voters casting ballots on Election Day, newly re-elected Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) said she would begin pushing the state legislature for early voting.
Despite turnout that hit 80 percent of registered voters, problems were few and far between in the state The biggest problem for some voters on Election Day seemed to come from confusion over polling place locations in Washoe County. Also in Washoe County, results were held up for several hours on election night after blank cartridges were removed from voting machines. It turns out the cartridges were in machines that were never used. In Clark County, some polling locations remained open for 30 additional minutes to allow those in line to cast ballots. Officials in Churchill and Fallon counties attributed the smooth Election Day to the fact that half of their registered voters cast early ballots.
Despite past problems with its optical-scan system, New Mexico’s Election Day was relatively smooth Non-Election Day problems with absentee ballots seemed to generate the most complaints to the Secretary of State’s office. The problems of no-show ballots forced some voters to make their way to the polls in Dona Ana County and cast provisional ballots. With 500 provisional ballots and a 53-vote margin in one race, Sandoval County started its canvass on Friday, just as officials in Quay County were completing their canvass.
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (D) lauded a mostly problem-free Election Day in the closely watched Buckeye State. “I think that the process worked for the voters…I resigned my job as a judge (to run for Secretary of State) to have a night like we had last night. I wanted the voters of the state of Ohio to have confidence in the voting system,” Brunner said. Yet problems with provisional ballots, flagged by some advocacy groups and election experts as a potential trouble spot for the state, did emerge. Thousands of provisional ballots might have been wrongly issued in Franklin County due to voters being incorrectly flagged on the voter rolls. The county is unclear on the scope of the problem and plans to investigate. Additionally some counties complained of delays in tallying paper ballots and early reports also from Franklin County indicate that paper ballots were two-and-a-half times more likely to not be recorded than those cast on touch-screen voting systems. However the state’s largest jurisdiction, Cuyahoga County which has had several troubled elections since 2004, saw a generally smooth Election Day.
Electionline predicted long lines at polling places since the state offers neither early nor no-excuse absentee voting as well as the possibility of problems with voting systems. But a wide margin of victory in the presidential race and turnout figures that fell short of some projections led to a mostly smooth day with little controversy in the Keystone State. A few precincts in Pittsburgh experienced exceptionally long lines, particularly at the University of Pittsburgh campus and a number of polling places visited throughout the day had a smattering of machine issues that were resolved quickly enough to have no discernible impact on voting. Reports from a few locations in the state indicated that a few voters received emergency paper ballots when more than half of the electronic voting machines in polling places did not function. But fears of widespread machine failures that led a judge to order counties to have stocks of emergency ballots on hand never materialized.
Some Virginia voters faced lines at the polls on Election Day but generally problems were few and far between. More than 3.7 million voters participated. Some would-be voters who came to the polls on Election Day believing that they had properly registered through voter registration drives found that they were not on precinct rosters, The Washington Post reported. In Blacksburg, many student voters at Virginia Tech were forced to trek more than five miles away from campus to vote at a small church on an unmarked road where lines persisted all day and the last voter left at about 8:30 p.m., 90 minutes after the polls closed. Also in the Blacksburg area, Rep. Tom Perriello (D) surprised observers by collecting 745 more votes than incumbent Republican Rep. Virgil Goode (R). However, Goode has not yet conceded and official results will be not released by the state board of elections until November 24, according to the Martinsville Bulletin. A week before the election, a flier began to circulate saying that Republicans vote on November 4 while Democrats vote on November 5, complete with the Virginia state seal and board of elections logo. While Democrats acted quickly to ensure that voters weren’t misled, state officials found that the flier was an office joke gone awry. After a worker made the mock flier and showed it to colleagues, another worker forwarded it to the Obama campaign. From there, the flier began circulating in the online community where bloggers responded with outrage. The flier was never physically distributed, Corinne Geller, state police spokesman said, and since there was no criminal intent, charges were never filed, the The Virginian Pilot reported.
Despite pre-election concerns that a voter registration lawsuit filed by the attorney general would impact voters, things went well in the Badger State. In fact, state officials called the election nearly problem-free. “Wisconsin election officials were prepared for Election Day and did great work,” said Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the Government Accountability Board. “While various polling places had to deal with normal Election-Day glitches, our poll workers and chief election inspectors responded with patience and experience.” There were scattered reports of minor glitches, but all of those were deemed typical Election Day problems. A Milwaukee woman admitted that she voted twice (absentee and on Election Day) but authorities have said she will not be prosecuted.
(Sean Greene, Dan Seligson and Kat Zambon also contributed to this story.)
II. Election Reform News This Week
Minnesota isn’t the only jurisdiction preparing for a recount. A county attorney’s race in Crawford County, Kan., separated by 14 votes, will see a hand recount of nearly 16,000 ballots. In Black Hawk County, Iowa, the auditor’s office recounted two precincts in a state senate race — where the margin is 14 votes as well. On Wednesday, a state Supreme Court justice approved a recount in a tightly contested Congressional race in New York. Although the losing candidates have yet to request one, the outcomes of five legislative races in South Dakota are within the margin for a recount. A losing candidate in a county commissioner race in Palo Pinto County, Texas called into question the reliability of voting machines in electronic voting machines and has asked for a recount. A recount was ordered in one Vermont legislative race after additional absentee ballots were discovered. Republicans in Kalispell, Mont. requested a recount in a tight state legislative race. In Oregon, counties throughout the state will be conducting their first-ever partial hand recount of randomly chosen races to audit the accuracy of voting machines. And the statewide senatorial recount isn’t the only recount in Minnesota either. With a margin of just 12 votes, a recount was requested in a city council race in Carver City, Minn. Officials there said they would use the recount as practice for the still pending statewide recount.
With the overwhelming popularity of early voting in this year’s presidential election, several states are looking into instituting the practice for the first time and others are reviewing their procedures. In Michigan, Democratic lawmakers are pushing through reforms that they say would make it more convenient to vote, including early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. In Georgia, where some waited in line up to eight hours to cast ballots during early voting, some GOP lawmakers are considering shortening the period of time voters have to cast an early ballot. After being swamped by absentee ballots, election officials in Wisconsin are considering moving to an early voting system in addition to absentee ballots. Election officials in Maine plan to ask the state legislature during its next session to amend the state constitution to allow for early voting. Recently re-elected Missouri secretary of state Robin Carnahan has said that she will ask the state legislature to approve early voting in the coming year.
A story in the New York Times this week noted that in addition to increased early voting opportunities, in the wake of the 2008 election, there is increasing support for expanding the voter registration rolls. “The single most important thing that Congress can do right now is create universal voter registration, which would mean that all eligible voters are automatically registered,” Rosemary E. Rodriguez, chairwoman of the Election Assistance Commission, told the paper. Rodriguez said universal registration would reduce the dependence on third-party groups like Acorn to sign up people and would remove the impetus for much of the pre-election litigation over who should be allowed to register. Supporters say universal registration could reduce registration fraud and the confusion at the polls that results when voters are purged from the rolls. According to the paper, such a plan would be costly and technologically difficult, and it could run into resistance from Republicans who have been wary of expanding registration, citing concerns about ineligible voters being added to the rolls. Some state officials say they would prefer to set registration standards themselves. But independent experts say easier registration and voting methods would ensure that huge crowds like those on Tuesday turn out without being discouraged by the long delays experienced in many states.