Clearly, it is not a good day to be someone important and try to go vote. Read on to see what happened to Chelsea Clinton in NY, Mark Sanford, the Governor of South Carolina, and Robin Carnahan the secretary of state in Missouri. Of course, even worse -- try to be an average American and experience a problem at the polls -- there is a good chance your vote will never be counted.
Starting from early this morning, in fact starting a few days ago with "early voting," the problems have been pouring in. Voters are being turned away for insufficient identification in places like Missouri and Arizona, they are standing in such long lines in Colorado that there has been a suit filed to keep the polls open longer, and from Texas to Maryland we are hearing from voters who are reporting that they put their finger on one name on the electronic voting machine screen and another candidate's name is recorded as their vote.
The voter hot-line we monitor, 1-866-myvote-1, is being advertised on NBC and at this hour is logging in 1000 calls per hour from all over the country. As well as being directed to their polling place or being connected to a local board of election for assistance, the voter is also allowed to record a 60 second message explaining the problems they are experiencing.
This caller's message from Collins City, Texas is typical of what we are hearing: "I got up to the machine and I tried to vote for Chris Bell, who's a Democrat, instead of a Republican. I am a registered Republican but I wanted to vote for Chris Bell. I tried three times to vote for Chris Bell and I am so frustrated because every time I voted for Chris Bell, Rick Perry, the Republican, had a cross by his name." Of course we are hearing that problem in most places that have electronic voting machines -- someone described it as "fat-finger syndrome." (Which I have been calling a blame the victim response...) Roughly 22% of our calls are about mechanical problems -- up about 5 fold from 2004.
Voter frustration is hitting an unusual peak in some places. In Allentown, PA voter named Micheal Young apparently said that he believed that Republican's were conspiring to win the election through the use of electronic voting machines, he proceeded to smash the electronic machine with the ear of a metal cat paperweight. Then, apparently feeling remorseful, he sat down, hung his head and waited for the police. According to the election officials, at least the votes were not lost and the memory card is in the voter registration office.
Registration is still a significant problem comprising 32% of our calls, although this is about half of what it was in 2004. This includes the problem of a voter's name not appearing on the lists when they got to their polling place, people who registered at the Department of Motor Vehicles only to find that their name was never transferred to the voters list and problems with the "electronic poll book," which is the new electronic data base being used in several states. These poll books have had glitches or are just too slow to handle the volume of voters. The greatest concern is about all of the people who are forced to vote on provisional ballots (many of whom should have been allowed to vote on "emergency" ballots which should be counted) -- and the variability from state to state about whether those votes will ever be counted.
Long lines are causing tremendous frustration in some locations, probably most significantly in Colorado. A lawsuit has been filed to attempt to keep the polling places open extra hours (until 9pm) to compensate for the serious problems and long lines today. It appears that most of these problems are related to their electronic polling books which were sharing the same server. This has been tremendously slow and greatly delaying voting -- even Bill Ritter, the Democratic candidate for Governor was forced to wait in line for an hour and a half to vote.
As I mentioned, no one is immune from voter registration problems, as this NY Times story states -- even Chelsea Clinton was taken off the rolls. Of course, she was reassured that her vote would be counted, which is great, but might lead one to ask, what if your mother is not a US Senator???
Confusion about the identification requirement is a growing problem, with at least 10% of the calls addressing the problem. Because some states, such as Arizona, have adopted new laws and others like Missouri have had a battle in the courts about whether a photo ID is required or not, there is tremendous confusion about what is required -- both on the part of voters and poll workers.
The Governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, was turned away from his polling place when he presented a driver's license and not his voter registration card. He drove home and returned later in the day with the "appropriate identification," and was allowed to vote.
There will be more calls and, no doubt, there will be contested races proving once again that until we fix all of the problems voters are experiencing today we will never feel confident of the most important ritual in our democracy.