This week, the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights under Law released a preliminary report on findings from Election Protection 2012 on recurring problems that American voters encounter when trying to cast their vote. Long lines, names missing from poll books, poorly trained poll workers, and confusion over new voter ID laws were just a few of the problems the Election Protection coalition reported this year.
On Election Day in Pennsylvania, many voters found that they were no longer listed in the poll books despite being long-time voters. Many precincts never received supplemental poll books that contained newly registered voters. For example, a voter at Harrity Elementary School in Philadelphia was told she was not on the rolls and was not offered a provisional ballot. She returned to the polling place to request that the poll workers check the supplemental pages, only to find that they did not have them.
Voters needing assistance were turned away in some locations because of long lines and understaffing of polling sites. A caller at the Bayland Park polling place in Harris County, Texas reported witnessing officials deny curbside ballots to at least three voters with physical disabilities and that these voters were told to go to the end of the line like everyone else. In Philadelphia and Lehigh Counties in Pennsylvania, both counties are covered by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act and are therefore required to provide Spanish language assistance. However, some polling places with Spanish language voters had no poll workers who spoke Spanish, and Spanish language assistance hotlines were inaccessible on Election Day.
Another problem encountered by voters was poll workers confused by voter ID laws. In Ohio, one of the most reported problems was too many provisional ballots being issued by widespread misapplication of the voter ID requirements – specifically, forcing voters with valid driver’s licenses with addresses that did not match their current address to vote provisionally. In Ohio, the ID does not need to have the voter's current address as long as the voter is properly registered at the home they are now residing in. In Michigan, voters without photo ID reported being turned away, even though Michigan law permits voters without a photo ID to vote if they signed an affidavit swearing they are who they say they are.
Long lines were reported throughout the country and led President Obama to say that night in his victory speech, "We have to fix that." In Florida, voters faced incredibly long lines, both during early voting and on Election Day. The reduction of early voting days from 14 to 8 and inadequate machines, staffing, and space helped lead to these long lines.
To read more about the problems reported to the Election Protection hotline, read the report here.
The Election Protection coalition is made up of more than 100 local, state and national partners to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. The Fair Elections Legal Network is a part of the Election Protection coalition.