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by Hazel Trice Edney

The GOP Plan to Keep Out the Vote

(PNS) WASHINGTON -- Record turnouts at polling places across the nation during the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton battle for the Democratic nomination have revealed a continuation of serious flaws in America's electoral process that could cause a fiasco Nov. 4, according to a non-partisan report.

"The report demonstrates that most of the state and county and local election machinery was unprepared for a real heavy turnout," says Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, a primary partner in the Election Protection Coalition that has manned voter protection hotlines since January. "It really demonstrates that our democracy has deep fault lines and is not being administered well...We are not prepared. We actively count on a low voter turn out and count on voter apathy."

The 15-page, "Election Protection 2008 Primary Report""Election Protection 2008 Primary Report," jointly compiled and distributed by the Lawyers Committee and the National Campaign for Fair Elections, says lawyers and other volunteers who manned voter question and complaint hotlines over the past five months fielded more than 5,000 calls that include complaints and charges revealing everything from serious mechanical flaws to apparent intentional shenanigans and voter intimidation at the polls.

Few problems have occurred in affluent areas, but they are mainly happening in low income, Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Because Black voters typically cast 90 percent of their ballots for Democrats, mishaps at the polls could cause another Election 2000-styled fiasco in the event of a close race between the Democratic nominee and Republican John McCain.

"Unfortunately, the encouraging story of record turnout has been tempered by voters in each primary reporting they were underserved by the infrastructure that supports the election process," the report states. "While each state had a unique set of issues at the polls, there are some common obstacles that voters across the country faced."

Among the worse states was Pennsylvania, where more than 1,000 calls flooded the 1-866-Ourvote hotlines April 22.

Among the complaints:


In Pennsylvania's Delaware County, one voter was told the voting machines at her precinct were set for Republicans only. The voter was not able to cast a vote.


Another Pennsylvania voter took her child with her, but a poll worker refused to allow the child into the voting area with her, claiming that her child "can read."


Yet, another Pennsylvania caller said building materials were being thrown off the roof of the polling place to prevent voters from entering.


Finally, in Pennsylvania, a caller reported a polling location with only three voting machines and no printers working. Voters were leaving without being offered emergency ballots.


In the Georgia primary Feb. 5, a man allegedly from the secretary of state's office walked around in a uniform and a gun asking people if they belonged there. He left within 10 minutes after a call to the secretary of state's office, Arnwine says.


In Denton County, Texas, March 4, disabled voters were directed to the back of the building where there was no assistance for them to go up the stairs to the voting area.


Untrained poll workers, ballot shortages, registration roll problems and confusion over voter identification requirements. Also, some 57 percent of Super Tuesday complaints had to do with equipment failures.

Arnwine credits the massive increase in voter turnout for revealing the flaws in the system.

"The irony is that pundits and columnists and people are constantly criticizing the American electorate for not engaging in the election process and not actually coming and casting their votes," she says.

"Yet, when you get even a 40 percent turnout verses the historical 15 percent turnout, the electoral machinery just crashes, it just implodes, it can't take that amount of voting. What if 80 percent turned out?"

According to David Bositis, a senior analyst at the Joint Center for political and economic studies, voting in presidential primaries has been as low as 10 percent in past years, but has gone up and down, depending on the candidates, the issues and the excitement of the race.

"Twenty percent would be considered a really outstanding turnout," he says. Arnwine says the hotlines will remain alive until the final primary June 3.

Then they will reopen in August through Nov. 4 to advise people through the registration process as well as on general election day.

A team of lawyers and other volunteers that make up Election Protection Legal Committees will be meeting with heads of electoral boards, secretaries of state as well as the U. S. Election Assistance Commission in order to report problems and work out solutions, she says.

Meanwhile, the report recommends: Improving poll worker training; ensuring proper protocols for dealing with election machinery breakdowns; guaranteeing that all eligible registrants make it on to the registration rolls; and widely publicizing correct requirements and restrictions about voter identification and other procedures.

"We're very, very on top of this," Arnwine says. She adds that they have not ruled out court action if necessary.

"If we can tell in advance that a jurisdiction is not properly prepared and has not set up the amount of voting sites that are needed, does not have or has not set up [appropriate] election equipment, or enough poll workers in advance, absolutely, we will take whatever action is necessary."

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Albion Monitor   May 19, 2008   (

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