MoJo's Guide to Voter Suppression and Poll Problems

Snafu or shenanigans? Our voting explainer and map of trouble spots around the country.

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    Voting Chaos in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida

    | Sat Nov. 3, 2012 5:03 AM EDT

    Read on for our full coverage from Election Day 2012; a brief explainer on voter suppression follows below.

    Update 15, 12:42 p.m. PST, November 7: Disproportionate disenfranchisement of minorities
    Black and Hispanic voters were more likely to enounter voting problems than whites in yesterday's election; see this AFL-CIO survey via Adam Serwer.

    Update 14, 4:20 p.m. PST, November 6: Tales from the voting meltdown in Florida
    Long lines continue to plague Florida voters, who have been forced to wait up to seven hours to cast their ballots today. Josh Harkinson has one woman's painful story, and more.

    Update 13, 3:50 p.m. PST, November 6: Pennsylvania's voter ID law causes mayhem
    Across the state of Pennsylvania voters have reported encountering signs and election volunteers requesting voter identification, even though a court ruling halted the state's voter ID law until after the election. Voters, needless to say, are confused and upset—many don't understand whether they are required to show ID. Erika Eichelberger and Josh Harkinson have more here.

    Update 12, 2:56 p.m. PST, November 6: Parking signs at Pa. polling place attempt to block Democrats
    In Charleroi, Pennsylvania, five signs were placed on barricades near a polling station parking lot that read: "NO PARKING FOR DEMOCRATS - WALK THAT WILL BE THE MOST WORK YOU DO ALL DAY." Brett Brownell has more here.

    Update 11, 2:28 p.m. PST, November 6: More voting machine craziness
    Another Romney-loving, vote-switching machine has been reported in Pennsylvania, this time in Union County. Dana Liebelson has more here.

    Update 10, 2:20 p.m. PST, November 6: Pennsylvania voter purge?
    "We suspect there has been an unreported purge of voters in Pennsylvania," Barbara Arnwine, head of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, tells Mother Jones. There are "too many voters being affected by this" in major urban areas like Philadephia and Pittsburgh "for us to think it’s voter error or voter confusion." The Committee's Jon Greenbaum, a former Justice Department attorney, said that the only other explanation for the reports was administrative error. Adam Serwer has more details here.

    Update 9, 2:14 p.m. PST, November 6: Fox News' Black Panther bogeyman
    2008 flashback! Fox News is once again hyperventilating about voter intimidation in Pennsylvania allegedly by the New Black Panther Party. As it was four years ago, the NBPP's actual presence at the polls is negligible. In fact, there was reportedly only one of them this time. Adam Serwer has more details here.

    Update 8, 12:05 p.m. PST, November 6: Big problems with absentee ballots in Ohio?
    A coalition of voter advocacy groups called the Ohio Fair Elections Network just held a conference call this afternoon in Columbus to provide an update on Election Day voting problems. The top concern involves a new program started by Secretary of State Jon Husted that mailed absentee ballot applications to nearly 7 million voters earlier this year. Because of various voting restrictions set in motion since 2008—and because some voters never received the absentee ballots they requested through the program—those voters will have to cast provisional ballots today unless they take their absentee ballots (if they received them) to their local board of elections office. And there are now red flags with Ohio's provisional ballot process, thanks to a controversial last-minute maneuver by Husted regarding voter IDs.

    About 209,000 Ohio voters cast provisional ballots in 2008; Brian Rothenberg of ProgressOhio said he expects to see 30,000 to 50,000 more this year because of the new absentee ballot program. By state law, officials don't have to count provisional ballots until this November 17. After that, if Obama and Romney are within 0.25 percent of the entire state's vote a recount would be required.

    Other problems today, which multiple representatives from the Fair Elections Network said were "isolated," have reportedly included malfunctioning optical ballot scanners, confusion over correct polling locations, and long lines, primarily in Cuyahoga and Summit Counties. Aside from the provisional ballot concerns, "things seem to be running smoothly," said Carrie Davis, a spokeserson for the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

    Update 7, 11:20 a.m. PST, November 6: What was the deal with this Romney-loving voting machine?
    An electronic voting machine in Perry County, Pennsylvania that changed a President Obama vote to one for Mitt Romney is now back online, after officials received a complaint and recalibrated the machine, Mother Jones has confirmed. Watch the video that's been circulating this morning:

    Dana Liebelson has more details here.

    Update 6, 9:17 a.m. PST, November 6: Polling troubles emerge in key states; watchdogs report "thousands" of calls

    The Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights says it fielded thousands of calls Tuesday morning from voters around the country, including in Pennsylvania and Ohio: voters turned away from the polls because they lacked photo ID, voters facing polling places with inadequate staff and equipment, and voters whose polling stations opened late. Adam Serwer has more details here.

    Update 5, 8:36 a.m. PST, November 6: Conservative group's poll-watching operations—focused on black neighborhoods—blocked in Ohio
    True the Vote, a conservative group that sees itself as fighting voter fraud but that voting rights groups see as engaging in voter suppression, has been denied its application to place observers at polling places in Franklin County, Ohio, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The Franklin County Board of Elections said that the requests were not properly filed. Not only that, but the Dispatch reports that county officials said that some of the names on True the Votes applications may have been falsified, and that the group could be investigated after the election.

    A crucial detail about True the Vote's intentions: Many of the requests, according to the Dispatch, were to observe polling stations in predominantly black neighborhoods. True the Vote emerged in the aftermath of the 2008 election, when many conservatives had been convinced that the now-defunct community organizing group ACORN had illegally influenced the outcome. They set a goal of fielding thousands of poll watchers in 35 states on Election Day.

    Update 4, 4:30 p.m. PST, November 5: Could voting machines really be used to steal the election in Ohio?
    According to Verified Voting, a nonprofit that advocates for more transparent elections, 25 percent of Americans will vote in this year's election on machines with no paper trails. That's led to fears that a few hacked machines in a decisive state could swing the entire election.

    One popular conspiracy theory is that Mitt Romney's son, Tagg—who owns part of Hart InterCivic, a company with machines in two Ohio counties—plans to steal the election for his father. But as NPR reported, the theory has little connection with reality. Tagg Romney has only a tenuous connection to Hart: He owns the private equity firm Solamere Capital, which is invested in another firm, HIG Capital, that took over Hart's board last July.

    Another conspiracy theory has been floated by the Columbus Free Press, which previously reported that a private IT firm helped steal Ohio from John Kerry in 2004. The Free Press claims it has confirmed that staffers in the Ohio secretary of state's office have added experimental software patches to machines in the state that could steal votes. That doesn't add up, according to Joseph Lorenzo Hall, a voting expert at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, DC. "To be sure: voting systems are exceedingly vulnerable," he told the Awl, but there's "no contact between [a] voting system and reporting software."

    Update 3, 2:50 p.m. PDT, November 5: Protecting the voting rights of people with mental disabilities
    Fourteen states categorically bar people who are under guardianship or are judged to be mentally "incompetent" or "incapacitated" from voting. The laws "are based on a faulty stereotype" and violate constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process, says one legal expert. Deanna Pan has more here.

    Update 2, 1:30 p.m. PST, November 5: Ohio GOP's ID switcheroo, dirty robocalls against Dems in Arizona, intimidation in Pa.
    Will this be the dirtiest election ever? Most people won't go to the polls until tomorrow, but reports of trickery aimed at would-be voters have have been piling up: A last-minute directive from Ohio's Republican secretary of state on voter IDs that could swing the election, epically long lines at early voting locations in Ohio and Florida, and GOP robocalls directing Democrats to the wrong polling places in Arizona. (For much more, explore the icons on the interactive map above.) And are the tea party's "election monitoring" efforts targeting African Americans? MoJo's Josh Harkinson has more details here.

    Update 1, 10:45 a.m. PST, November 5: Voting chaos in Florida—no small thanks to Romney's man, Rick Scott
    Mitt Romney's final pre-election visit to Florida on Monday morning included a surprise guest: the state's Republican governor Rick Scott. MoJo's Adam Weinstein runs down Scott's various moves during his administration to tighten voting restrictions, leading up to this weekend's mess with long lines and controversy over early voting.


    MoJo's Brief Guide to Voter Suppression Tactics
    In our July/August issue, Kevin Drum investigated the decadelong campaign by Republicans to confront voter fraud. Despite the fact that incidents of in-person voter fraud in the United States are exceedingly rare, the GOP has used the issue to tighten election laws around the country, including pushing for controversial voter ID measures. Mother Jones has tracked this and other efforts apparently aimed at suppressing turnout among minorities, the elderly, and other voting constituencies that traditionally favor Democrats at the polls.

    Here's more of our recent coverage to get you up to speed on voter suppression tactics that may affect Election 2012:

    Check back regularly from now through Election Day—we will be updating this explainer and the interactive map above with more information as it emerges. Know of a voting problem in your area? Report it to Mother Jones here.


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