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I. In Focus This WeekElection 2012: What to watch
Voter ID, Sandy, elections observers on this year’s watch list
With Election 2012 just five days away, elections officials throughout the country are busy putting on the finishing touches for the big day.
As with anything that involves humans, there will be some bumps on Election Day, but by-and-large millions of Americans will make their way to their local polling place, cast their ballots, and put on their “I Voted” sticker with nary a problem.
That being said, there are several things to watch on November 6 for how they may impact a voter’s ability to cast a ballot and/or an elections official’s capacity to count the ballots:
What was a last-minute addition to our “what to watch” list could become one of the biggest stories of Election 2012. Just how Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath will impact the election remains to be seen, but it is clear there will be an impact.
Local elections officials in hard-hit areas in the Northeast are scrambling to come up with contingency plans so voters will have options to cast their ballots on or before November 6. Many polling places may likely still be without power on November 6 and many other polling places will need to be relocated because of storm damage.
In New Jersey, state and county elections officials are reviewing contingency plans. Not only is New Jersey faced with a lack of electricity at many polling sites, but there are also sites that have been damaged or destroyed.
Across the river in New York, where the city’s board of elections has faced numerous problems in recent elections, the board of elections is working with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to find alternate voting sites. Numerous sites in Gotham were damaged by flood waters, have no power, or were otherwise damaged.
And in Connecticut, where the state is suffering through its second October/November in a row with a pro-longed power outage, Secretary of State Denise Merrill has promised that the election “will go forward.” At press time, about 100 of the state’s polling places are without power. Local elections officials are working on plans to relocate the polling places should power not be restored by Tuesday.
As the storm moved west bringing with it high winds and feet of snow, elections officials from West Virginia to Michigan were preparing for an Election Day that could be affected by up to three feet of snow.
Early and absentee voting was cut short in several areas including the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. The governor of Maryland extended early voting so ultimately the state will only lose one hour of early voting, in the District, early voting has been extended to 9pm each remaining day and additional machines were added to each location and in Virginia, the governor called on local registrars to extend the time for in-person absentee voting.
This will be the first presidential election with voter photo ID in place in several states although all states have at least had an opportunity to test run the use of voter photo ID through a primary or other local election.
In Pennsylvania, where the court ruled that the state’s strict new photo ID law could not be implemented in time for the November 6 election some local elections officials have said they will still ask voters for IDs, but will not require them, as a “soft rollout.”
Voters in New Hampshire will be facing their second election with the state’s new voter photo ID law and the first in September did not go that well and since then clerks have been working to educate poll workers and voters alike about the state’s new ID requirement.
Virginia joined the growing list of states requiring some sort of ID to cast a ballot on Election Day. Virginia’s law differs though from others because it does not require a photo ID. The state issued more than three million voter registration cards and other documents will be acceptable as well. This will be the first election with the new law in place and local registrars are unclear of the impacts.
Late last week, the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the state’s new photo ID law, but did allow library cards with photos issued by the city of Memphis to serve as ID cards. The state appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court and got into a scuffle with Memphis because it was requiring voters using library cards for ID who wished to cast their ballots during early voting to cast provisional ballots. Today, the state Supreme Court ruled that the library cards are acceptable for the November 6 election.
This will also be the first presidential election for Kansas’ strict photo ID law.
Provisional ballots could play a key role in several key swing states. In Florida, the state changed its provisional ballot rules early in 2012. Under the new rules, residents who move from one county to another without updating their registrations will now have to cast a provisional ballot. In elections past, residents were permitted to change their address on Election Day. And after a prolonged court battle, a federal appeals court ruled this week that provisional ballots cast in the wrong polling place in Ohio should not be counted.
In theory, elections observers are supposed to do just that...observe, but not interfere. However, concerns have been raised on several fronts with regard to election observers in this year’s election. “I think the biggest thing to watch next Tuesday is the impact of citizen poll watchers, including but not limited to those affiliated with Houston-based True the Vote,” electionline’s Doug Chapin told The Columbus Dispatch. Election experts and officials alike have expressed concerns about the reliability of the information the election observers received during their training. In New Mexico, the state is investigating a video which shows the vice chair of the Sandoval County Republican Party providing poll watchers with misinformation including that voters must show a state-issued ID. In North Carolina and Florida, there have already been reports of scuffles and confrontations at polling places during early voting.
Also, officials in Texas (the Attorney general) and in Iowa (Secretary of state Matt Schultz) are threatening to arrest a group of international observers sent observe the November 6 election by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The group has been observing elections in the United States since 2002. This year the group will about 50 observers spread out through several states.
Online voter registration
More and more states are providing online voter registration, which has gone relatively smoothly and helped boost voter rolls in the states where it is offered. However, despite the public’s embrace of online voter registration, not all has gone smoothly. In New York, which launched its system in late August, local elections officials were anticipating potential problems with signature matches. If the voter’s signature from the DMV sign-up does not match how the voter signs into the polling place, or if the printed out versions of the DMV registrations are blurred or distorted, voters will be given a provisional ballot. In Maryland, a glitch in the state’s new online registration system—which launched in July—means that although some residents are registered, they will not appear in the poll books on Election Day and will need to cast a provisional ballot.
As we previously reported there are three elections-related ballot measures up for vote on Tuesday. In Arizona, residents will be deciding whether or not to eliminate their traditional closed primary system and instead go with a top-two primary system. Voters in East St. Louis, Ill. will once again vote whether or not to eliminate the city’s 100+ year-old elections board. And, voters in Minnesota will decide whether or not to require photo ID at future elections.
Secretary of state races
The top elections spot is up for grabs in five states — Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia. Things have gotten particularly heated in Oregon where first-term Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) is being challenged by Knute Buehler. According to a poll from the Oregonian, Brown was leading at press time, but more than a third of the voters remained undecided. In Missouri, Montana and West Virginia, voter ID has been the main topic of debate between the candidates with the Democrat candidate in each state opposing voter ID and the Republican candidate in each state making the implementation of voter ID their top priority.
Fulton County, Ga.
With just about a month to go until the November election, Fulton County, Ga. was forced to fire their elections chief after his probation for a 2009 DUI was revoked. This came after a very bumpy July primary that resulted in a review by the secretary of state’s office because the county missed the state’s deadline for completing the work of the election. The county has hired former Forsyth County elections supervisor Gary Smith to oversee the election.
Hawaii County, Hawaii
It’s hard to imagine trouble in paradise, but that’s exactly what’s been happening in Hawaii County. During the August primary, numerous polling places on the Big Island opened late and the governor was forced to extend the voting day to ensure that all who wanted to vote could. It has subsequently been reported that the polling places opened late because of a “blue flu” amongst election workers. Following the election, County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi failed to attend numerous meetings with other elections officials about the election and was defiant when asked by state officials about the county’s preparedness. In early October, the state decided to take over running the elections for November. Scott Nago, the state’s top elections official and Lori Tomczyk, the chief of ballot operations for Hawaii will oversee the election.
Palm Beach County, Fla.
The county at the center of Election 2000 is once again the news 12 years later. Although no one expects the election to hinge on the ballots from Palm Beach County, it’s still worth keeping an eye on. Not only is Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher up for re-election, but thousands of defective absentee ballots are being hand-copied by elections workers. Because of a printing error, about 27,000 absentee ballots were missing a heading meaning that they could not be scanned.
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