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What to Expect—Maybe—on Tuesday

POSTED: 07:10 AM ET, 10/31/2008 by The Editors

By Mary Pat Flaherty
Washington Post Staff Writer

If you want to get an idea how the voting process will play out on Tuesday, just take a look at how the early voting has been going.

The rules for Election Day vary widely from state to state, but the volume of voters and the volume of new voters promises to put stress on the system nationwide. Changes in voting equipment and in voter identification requirements in various areas could create other hurdles and delays in moving voters through polling places. And lingering confusion about the outcome of an assortment of lawsuits over voter eligibility could create confusion among both voters and poll workers.

The anticipated high turnout alone will put elections systems to the test but voting rights experts say there are also are a few places to watch for particular problems:

Florida: Gov. Charlie Crist (R) extended early voting hours to reduce hours-long lines that had cropped up. In addition, 15 counties are using new optical scan voting equipment, a change that both poll workers and voters must master.

During earlier elections this year, the counties of Sarasota and Hillsborough experienced problems with software for their new equipment that caused machines to read absentee ballots as test results and delayed tallies. In Broward, it took 21 hours to get results from local elections with a 15 percent turnout because of delays in transmitting voting information. In Palm Beach County, elections staff did multiple hand recounts of a judicial race in August and reconciled the votes only after finding ballots that had been overlooked between rounds of recounts.

Florida also has a new voter registration system for people who registered since early September that tightened the process for matching their information against driver's license and Social Security records. Mismatches due to clerical errors cropped up and all of those discrepancies have not been resolved -- particularly for voters in Miami and Broward counties. That could delay processing voters on Tuesday or cause voters to cast provisional ballots -- rather than regular ballots -- that would be counted if they subsequently clarified their registration information with elections officials.

Colorado: Paper ballots will be the main voting method in Denver after a troubled 2006 election that saw lengthy delays due to backups in the electronic transmittal of voter registration information. Local elections officials have cautioned that the use of paper ballots could add hours to the tallying time. About 5,000 new voters who signed their application but failed to check an accompanying box were deemed by the state to have incomplete forms that rendered them ineligible to vote. Several counties have put in processes to allow those voters to show identification on Election Day to clear up the problem. Additionally, thousands of Colorado voters (the exact number is not known) will be permitted to cast provisional ballots that will receive priority for being processed after Tuesday in an agreement reached this week between the state and voting rights attorneys. The state and voting rights groups had been in court over whether those voters had been wrongly removed from voting rolls in violation of federal law.

Ohio: Requirements that local elections boards have a publicly detailed plan on how they will allocate voting machines in neighborhoods and have emergency backup ballots on hand may relieve many of the problems that plagued the 2004 elections. But a series of lawsuits over voter registrations, absentee ballots and early voting matters has created a contentious climate.

Pennsylvania: A federal judge ordered the state's polling places to offer emergency paper ballots when half of the voting machines at a polling place don't work, a response to concerns by voting rights groups that increased turnout would exacerbate problems that surfaced during April's primary when voters left without casting ballots due to backups. But as part of the lawsuit that required the extra ballots to be ready, the judge also noted that many precincts -- 90 percent of those in Philadelphia for example -- have no more than two voting machines on site.

Washington, D.C.: Phantom votes appeared during early results from local elections that local officials blamed on a bad cartridge from a voting machine. A fuller explanation was not provided and the problem led to hand recounts to reconcile votes.

Virginia: The question of whether there are enough machines to handle turnout has surfaced in Virginia. The minimum standard for machines is one for every 750 voters, compared to one for every 200 voters in Maryland.

By The Editors |  October 31, 2008; 7:10 AM ET
Previous: Feds Interview Countrywide Whistleblower | Next: White House Pushes Deregulation, Wall Street Woes, Sen. Stevens Can Vote


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Mary Pat:
This monitor story is getting weirder by the minute; not only are the DOJ sending monitors, but the OPM (Office of Personnel Management) are sending observers; now, I'm not an expert on voting law, but what the hell does the OPM have to do with voting rights?

Posted by: spenceradams | October 31, 2008 5:27 PM

Mary Pat:
This monitor story is getting weirder by the minute; not only are the DOJ sending monitors, but the OPM (Office of Personnel Management are sending observers; now, I'm not an expert on voting law, but what the hell does the OPM have to do with voting rights?

Posted by: spenceradams | October 31, 2008 5:28 PM

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