WESTWOOD - Congressman Steve Chabot found out just how serious elections officials are about the new voter ID law when he showed up to vote at his polling place in Westwood.
Chabot went into the polling place at Westwood First Presbyterian Church about 9:30 a.m. and pulled out his Ohio driver's license to show the poll workers. They looked at his license, and told the congressman that, even though they know perfectly well who he is, his driver's license was issued to his business office, not his home, which is his voting address.
Somewhat sheepishly, Chabot went back out into the parking lot, jumped in his 1993 Buick - the one he talked about on his campaign commercials - and started heading back to his home a few blocks away to find a proper ID.
"I guess I'll see if I can find a utility bill," Chabot said. "That's the law. You have to have proper ID."
Chabot returned about 10 minutes later with a bank statement and a Social Security Administration statement in hand.
He went inside and voted quickly.
"My wife told me to bring two documents just to be sure," Chabot said. "I guess this just shows the poll workers are really doing their job."
The Ohio voter ID requirement is the work of Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who is famous for his partisan hatchet job on the 2004 presidential election. Only two weeks ago, Blackwell issued a directive requiring that any ID used at the polls show a current address. It was challenged in court but upheld by a judge on October 29. Its impact on vote suppression this year could foretell problems down the road: according to the NYU-based Brennan Center, some 25 states have proposed similar voter ID requirements. Stay posted for more news about how the law is affecting Ohio voters today at the polls.
Also, here's a link to a Mother Jones story I wrote which talks about how these voter-ID laws are at the center of many tight secretary of state races across the country this year.
In South Carolina, the highest elected official in the land forgot his voter identification card and was turned away at the polls. According the the Associated Press, Republican Gov. Mark Sanford tried to vote using a driver's license with a Columbia, South Carolina address that didn't match his precinct in Sullivan's Island. Following protocol, poll workers rejected him. He went home to get his voter ID card, came back about 90 minutes later and cast his ballot.
If South Carolina's own governor can't get it right, what should we expect in Ohio? A directive there requires voters to show a photo ID with a current address, a scenario that would have presumably barred Sanford from casting a regular ballot.
Despite high profile vote-counting controversies in Ohio in 2004, provisional ballot data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission shows that the worst place to vote that year was the Northeast: the region had the second highest percentage of provisional ballots cast as a percentage of voter registration, 1.34, but reported the lowest rate of counting those ballots, 42.8 percent. The worst state was New York, with a whopping 2.21 percent of registered voters casting provisional ballots, yet only 40 percent of those ballots being counted. That means the percentage of people who were denied a vote in New York was .88 percentor more than the .79 percent margin that decided the presidential election that year in New Mexico.
Provisional ballots, which were required for the first time in 2004 by the Help America Vote Act, aren't the only measures of election fairness, but a large number of provisional ballots cast and then invalidated most likely means: 1) Voters are uneducated about registration rules, or 2) Elections officials are excluding people who should be eligibleneither of which is good news.
So how are things going this year in the Empire State? The Albany Times-Unionreports on phone calls, some automated and some allegedly made by people who live nowhere near New York, that are raising complaints on both sides of the aisle of unfair campaign tactics: "Republicans claimed Democrats were misdirecting voters to the wrong polling places -- an allegation Democrats chalked up to honest errors."
If you've read Mother Jones' recent story on 11 sneaky vote suppression tactics, you might think you know every trick in the bag. But just in case you aren't already feeling paranoid, more concerns have been brought to light in Cast Out, a new report by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice:
Wireless Technology in Voting Machines
A year-long Brennan Center study, completed in June, found many voting machines include wireless components that could be infiltrated by a Trojan horse virus using technology as simple as a palm pilot. Only Minnesota, New York and California ban machines with wireless components. The report found the machines "pose a real danger to the integrity of national, state and local elections."
The Help America Vote Act Inverted
Passed by Congress in 2002 to improve access to the polls, the Help America Vote Act requires all states to create computerized databases of registered voters by January 1, 2006. "For the first time we are seeing virtually every state with a centralized voter list," says Cast Out author Wendy Weiser. The databases are supposed to be more reliable and easily updated than paper versions, but, as they come online, many states are cross-checking them against databases maintained by other state agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and purging any names that don't match up. According to Weiser, these cross-checks can improperly reject up to 20 percent of voters from the rolls. Voters may have no way of knowing they've been booted until the show up at the polls on election day.
And Don't Bother Registering Either
Some states are also using DMV and Social Security databases to reject voter registration applications as soon as they arrive. Challenged in a lawsuit, Washington State and Pennsylvania abandoned the practice but Florida, North Carolina, South Dakota and Iowa still use it.
Aiming to get around the sort of he-said-she-said disputes over election irregularities that plagued Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004disputes that may well have decided the fate of the last two presidential electionstwo different groups will use the text and video capabilities of cell phones this year to monitor the polls.
Video the Vote, a project of independent filmmaker Jim Ennis and elections activist James Rucker, began six weeks ago with the launch of a popular video by the same name on YouTube (see below). Drawing more than 100,000 page views, the film ended with a pitch to participate in a project that combines citizen journalism with something akin to a flash mob. The 670 people who have signed on as volunteers will receive text messages on election day and will rush to polling places where irregularities have been reported and document them with digital video cameras. They will then download the footage and make it available to the public and the media. Rucker says the project was motivated by a perceived lack of media coverage of election irregularities in years past. "It's all for making sure these stories actually happen," he told me, "instead of kind of happening a few days later."
A similar effort was launched today by Veeker (as in video + peek), a web startup that aims to be the YouTube of cell phone videos. Founded by Silicon Valley heavyweights Roger Raderman, creator of iFilm, and Alex Kelly, the former head of new media for 21st Century Fox, Veeker is promoting itself with the activist set through the website veekthevote.com. Cell phone users can email their videos into a searchable database on the site that will serve as a source for election footage. The site has partnered with Youth Noise, a networking group for socially minded young people with 115,000 members, some of whom have volunteered to film any irregularities at the polls with their phones. The goal, says spokesperson Vijay Chattha, is to "get more of a realistic picture of what's happing out there."