Voting rights coalition describes problems in N.J., other states

Voting rights advocates described the election in New Jersey on Tuesday as a “catastrophe,” and said significant problems were also cropping up in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, among other places, although it was not possible to immediately verify all of those reports.

In New Jersey, problems stemming from super storm Sandy caused election computers to crash and some polling places were not able to open by late morning, according to Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She also said some poll workers were demanding identification from voters, in violation of state law.

“There is just a word -- just one word -- to describe the situation around New Jersey, and that is catastrophe," Arnwine said in a teleconference that included representatives of a broad coalition of voting rights and civil rights advocates.The problems were not evident at precincts observed by Times’ reporters in New Jersey. In Ocean County, mobile precincts contracted from a North Carolina company appeared to be running smoothly, and there were short lines and no problems at polling places in Newark.

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Voting rights advocates have praised New Jersey’s decision to suspend some voting restrictions and allow voters to cast ballots anywhere in the state, or to vote by e-mail or fax. Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, said that despite the problems in the election, "We commend the governments of New Jersey and New York for their efforts to make it possible.”

Arnwine also said there were problems with voting machines crashing in Ohio, which, along with Florida, has received the most attention in the run-up to the election. She said voting machine scanners were malfunctioning at precincts in Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo, causing long lines and delays. She also expressed concern that emergency ballots were being filed in boxes set aside for provisional ballots, raising questions about whether they would be counted as provisional ballots, which are subject to post-election challenges.

At some precincts in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, there were problems with machines early in the day, but they appeared to have been fixed and voting was taking place without apparent problem.

In Tampa, Fla., Arnwine said, long lines at polling places had prompted some election workers to redirect voters to other precincts, where they would have to cast provisional ballots. However, a local representative of the Election Protection Coalition, the umbrella group spearheaded by the Lawyers’ Committee, said the problem occurred by accident in just one precinct, which had moved. About 15 voters were redirected to the wrong precinct, according to Dara Lindenbaum, who is coordinating efforts for Election Protection in Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa. Election officials in Tampa said they were unaware of any problems.


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The Tampa Bay Times did report a problem in Pinellas County, Fla., where the county election office mistakenly placed hundreds, and possibly thousands, of automatic calls to voters erroneously telling them they had until 7 p.m. Wednesday to vote. A later call retracted the information.

In Pennsylvania, Arnwine said, voters were reporting considerable confusion about whether identification is required. The state had passed a law requiring photo ID, but it was overturned in court.

By 8 a.m. PST, Arnwine said, the array of voting rights groups in  the Election Protection Coalition had received more than 30,000 calls from around the country from voters reporting problems of some sort. The heaviest volume was from New York and New Jersey, still digging out from Sandy.

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Heavy volume was also reported from California, where Arnwine said there were “a smattering of different things” being reported. She said some voters were complaining that they were being asked for identification, which is not required, and that there were reports of “unpleasant interactions” involving vote monitors from True the Vote, the tea party-affiliated organization that monitors vote fraud.

Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, the youth-oriented organization, said her group had fielded numerous calls from young voters who were being told that they were not registered, despite their insistence that they had registered through Rock the Vote.

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