Long lines, eligibility challenges mar elections
13th November 2012 · 0 Comments
By Zoe Sullivan
“I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that.” President Obama offered this acknowledgment of the issues facing voters across the country during his victory speech. Long lines and voter suppression efforts have been the subject of national news reports and debates, but it is not entirely clear what impact these issues had on the November 6 election.
In New Orleans, one machine on the West Bank was reported to be selecting an incorrect district. Jeanine Aubry, the Elections Supervisor for Orleans Parish said that the problem was called in around 10am after 44 voters had cast their ballots. The machine served Ward 1514A. Aubry said that the machine had been tested before the polls opened to ensure that it was functioning properly. “My understanding was that the machine was correct, it was programmed correctly. The wrong paper ballot was put for District 7 rather than District 4,” she explained.
Aubry said that she and other election officials would be going to the warehouse where the voting machines are stored on November 9 to inspect the machine and determine what happened. Asked whether a correction had been made to the 44 ballots cast before the problem was identified, Aubry responded “That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”
The Elections Supervisor told The Louisiana Weekly that this was the only serious issue that had emerged during voting, but she acknowledged that many people had had to wait in long lines. Schaumburg Elementary, Maria Goretti and Lake Forest Charter were the polls that made the largest number of calls during the election, Aubry said, explaining that these locations had waits for the polls throughout the day.
Asked whether there were insufficient voting machines for the number of voters, Aubry pointed out that the number of machines is mandated by the number of registered voters in a precinct and is not determined by turnout.
Garage polling places offered one way to take pressure off of school-based polls. According to The Advocate, three New Orleans homeowners hosted a poll in their garages, but prior to Katrina, there were as many as 39.
Thomas Walsh, a Broadmoor resident, complained that street repairs began at the intersection of Nashville and Claiborne, making it impossible for drivers to turn directly into McMain High School where the poll was located. “Luckily, they had someone immediately there, right by the door who informed us we could go directly to our precinct, if we knew where it was, instead of waiting by the door.” Still, Walsh said, he waited for 75 minutes before being able to cast his ballot.
“There is no excuse for elections officials in many states to fumble the ball, to be unprepared for large turnouts,” Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, told The Associated Press (AP). The AP also reported that some California poll workers overslept, resulting in the late opening of some polls and that long lines plagued places such as Miami-Dade County in Florida, Rhode Island, urban Tennessee, and Montana, forcing some to cast their ballots as late as 1am. Poll workers in Pennsylvania were erroneously informing voters that they were required to show a photo I.D., the AP also reported.
The Nation Magazine and Colorlines have been jointly reporting on voter suppression efforts for several months. New Orleans resident Brentin Mock has been one of the main correspondents on this issue, describing efforts by groups such as True the Vote, a right-wing poll-watching group. The group aimed to mobilize tens of thousands of aggressive volunteers around the country to prevent voter fraud, but Mock and others clearly showed that these efforts were directed primarily at people with low-incomes and people of color. In an article posted on the Colorlines website on election day, Mock described the efforts of one woman to remove dozens of Florida residents from the voting rolls by challenging their eligibility to vote.
Partnering with Mock on the project, reporter Aura Bogado posted a video from Colorado on election day in which one volunteer remarked on the number of Blacks and Latinos voting at his polling station, a number the volunteer claimed did not reflect the surrounding community.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has written about how rare voter fraud actually is and, in an analysis of the issue, offered specific examples of alleged voter fraud that were completely erroneous. One example the report cited comes from the infamous Bush-Gore election. “In Florida in 2000, a list of purged voters later became notorious when it was discovered that the ‘matching’ process captured eligible voters with names similar to — but decidedly different from — the names of persons with felony convictions, sometimes in other states entirely.”
Many progressives were prepared for a perfect storm in this election, with strict voter ID laws and voter purges keeping thousands from voting while voter intimidation efforts added to the mix to stop others.
Colorlines and The Nation were not the only organizations raising awareness around the issue. The Center for Social Inclusion published a report titled: “Citizens Denied: The Impact of Photo ID Laws on Senior Citizens of Color.” The report outlined that nearly half of Black voters aged 65 and older and one in three Latino voters could face greater difficulty voting.
The report’s summary highlighted that “a total of nearly140,000 voters of color 65 and older may have a harder time voting in the 2012 election.” It also pointed out that this exclusion rate is “two to three times the rate of white seniors.” The Center for Social Inclusion also noted that roughly 700,000 young people of color also risked disenfranchisement. The Brennan Center reported that 19 states have established new laws or regulations concerning voter eligibility since the start of 2011.
This article originally published in the November 12, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.