Intimidation and suppression
Florida Governor Jeb Bush sent a letter to Orange County elections officials urging them to tell poll-watchers, partisan representatives, and even members of the media to stay away from voters near polling places. The governor's office said it had been inundated with complaints from voters who felt harassed by observers too close to the voting booth.
The Rocky Mountain News confirmed that Colorado Democratic officials received an election handbook from the Democratic National Committee urging them to accuse the GOP of voter intimidation even if none is present. Advised the election guide: "If no signs of intimidation techniques have emerged yet, launch a preemptive strike." Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot wrote AFL-CIO president John Sweeney asking him to cease organized protests inside Bush campaign offices that have led to shouting matches and a sprained arm of a Republican campaign worker. Mr. Racicot also decried a string of burglaries and vandalism at Bush campaign offices that he says has intimidated Bush volunteers.
In Michigan residents of Ann Arbor and southern Wayne County reportedly received fraudulent phone calls telling them it was too late to vote absentee. The callers identified themselves as local election officials and targeted mostly seniors.
State GOP chairman Kevin Mannix called on Oregon's secretary of state to investigate the possibility of double voting in the state's vote-by-mail system. Democratic Secretary of State Bill Bradbury said Mr. Mannix made the same claim in 2000, which he called unsubstantiated.
The Orlando Sentinel reported 68,000 Florida voters are also registered to vote in Georgia or North Carolina. The newspaper claims 1,650 voted in both states in 2000 and 2002. With the higher-than-ever stakes in Florida, that number could swell. But Southerners weren't the only ones poised to cast ballots in the Sunshine State and elsewhere. The New York Daily News reported 46,000 voters were registered both in Florida and New York City. Officials in Florida have asked the Justice Department to investigate both incidents.
Up to 60,000 people could be registered to vote in both North and South Carolina, and officials say they have evidence that some Carolinians already have cast double ballots.
At least two Nevada Democrats say their voter registration cards were torn up by a Republican-funded voter registration company operating in a Las Vegas-area mall. Former employees of Voter Outreach of America contend the firm simply shredded or threw away registration forms from Democrats. Authorities in two Ohio counties are investigating 1,000 possible false voter registrations. The suspicious forms included the registration of a man who has been dead for more than two decades and an elderly woman who is incapable of signing her name. In another Ohio case, a man was paid with crack cocaine for filing false voter registration forms-some which registered Disney character Mary Poppins and singer Michael Jackson.
Arizona-based Sproul & Associates, a consulting firm funded by the Republican National Committee, is under investigation in Nevada and Oregon for accusations that the company instructed employees to register only Republicans and destroy forms completed by Democrats.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) fell into the limelight after reports that the Democrat-affiliated 527 group submitted thousands of possibly fraudulent voter registrations in the presidential swing states of Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
According to a new state law, military absentee ballots can arrive in Illinois anytime and still be valid, as long as they are postmarked on or before Nov. 1. County clerks across the state may decide how long to wait for soldiers' absentee votes. Still, with polls showing a 10-point Kerry lead in Illinois, it's unlikely Republicans will charge that as-yet-uncounted military votes might tip the state's electoral votes Mr. Bush's way.
Election officials in Pennsylvania missed the deadline to mail absentee ballots to overseas voters because of a legal challenge from Democrats over the inclusion of Ralph Nader on the ballot. The Justice Department sued the state to ensure overseas voters got two extra weeks to cast ballots, but a federal judge ruled against this, and against reprinting ballots without Mr. Nader's name. Republicans questioned if hard-to-reach military servicemen would be able to vote without an extension.
At least half of North Carolina's National Guard troops in Iraq failed to receive their state absentee ballots in time for their votes to be counted, according to Lt. Michelle Locke, an officer stationed near Baghdad and assigned to help with voting issues. Those determined to vote had to cast special, federal write-in ballots that the military had sent just in case. Still, getting the write-in ballots into soldiers' hands was sometimes tricky: One armed convoy braved a danger zone just to deliver a box of the special ballots to a base near the city of Samarra.
Ballot design and mechanics
The dreaded butterfly ballot resurfaces, this time in traditionally Democratic Cuyahoga County, Ohio, home to the city of Cleveland. Absentee voters have complained that the ballot is confusing: Unless inserted in an on-site voting machine, the half of the ballot displaying the candidate's name does not line up with the proper circle on the other half of the ballot. Both Democrats and Republicans were watching for irregularities.
Early voters in two New Mexico counties faced technical glitches with new touch-screen ballots. Several voters reported that when they tried to vote for Bush or Kerry, the touch-screen system would register their vote for the other candidate. Officials pointed out that selections can be altered until the voter officially submits the ballot. California election officials worry about technology problems after primary voters in San Diego County endured hour-long delays when touch-screen voting machines failed to boot properly. One woman voted twice with her smart card while 10 votes were inexplicably lost.
With record numbers of absentee voters, more problem ballots could crop up in Florida. Absentee voters have been submitting optical-scan ballots that have not been checked for proper markings, as they would be at a polling station. In the contested race of 2000, the error rate for optical-scan ballots was even higher than the rate for punch-card ballots.
Accusations of voter disenfranchisement flew in northern Florida's Duval County, where officials opened only one early voting site. A coalition of unions and civil-rights groups filed suit in Jacksonville asking for more polling sites because poorer residents could not travel easily. The county, which has one of the largest percentages of black voters in the state, opened four extra sites Oct. 23. Officials said they did not have the manpower or equipment to open more.
Elsewhere in the state: Miami-Dade County opened an early voting site in Hialeah, the state's fifth-largest city, after voters complained about the lack of one. Even when the new polling station opened, two Republican congressmen claimed a pattern of discrimination against the city's Hispanic majority. They said too few machines caused many voters to leave before casting their ballots.
Republicans pushed unsuccessfully for an early voting site in Rio Rancho, New Mexico's fourth-largest city. Democrats charged that would unfairly favor city residents over heavily Democratic Indian voters in the surrounding county. The state saw the most slender margin of victory in 2000, with Al Gore winning by only 366 votes.
Ruling in a lawsuit filed by Democrats, a federal judge on Oct. 19 told Michigan election officials they must allow provisional ballots to be cast in the wrong precinct, as long as the voter showed up in the right city, township, or village. But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed that ruling last week, along with a similar one in Ohio, leaving open the potential for cries of voter disenfranchisement in both of those battleground states.
Wrong-precinct voters will be permitted to cast provisional ballots in Louisiana, and determining the validity of those ballots will require a joint effort by poll workers, parish registrars, parish election supervisors, and even the secretary of state.
Officials in Washington County, Penn., warned that an avalanche of provisional ballots might cause a delay of up to four weeks in determining the winner of the presidential race and other close contests in the state.
-reported by Bob Jones, Lynn Vincent, John Dawson, Priya Abraham, and Kristin Chapman