Watchers tell of long lines, glitches, misinformation
Voters at some Virginia polls waited up to five hours to cast ballots, Florida voters received phone calls from an election official telling them the wrong day to vote, and dozens of Republican poll workers in heavily Democratic Philadelphia needed a court order to get into election locations.
Those were just some of the reports of Election Day irregularities that surfaced Nov. 6 as lawyers for both parties and watchdog groups monitored for unusual activity that could tilt the outcome of the most expensive presidential race in U.S. history.
In Philadelphia, the New Black Panther Party was back in election news after a reporter at Philadelphia magazine snapped a picture of a uniformed member of the group in front of one polling place. In 2008, members of the group were at the center of a voting-intimidation complaint filed by the George W. Bush Justice Department but later dropped by the Obama administration.
Across the country, a nonpartisan election watchdog group said it had received tens of thousands of complaints from voters, many from storm-ravaged parts of New Jersey where election officials were scrambling to help voters displaced by Superstorm Sandy cast ballots.
Barbara R. Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which is part of the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition, said many complaints involved “massive confusion” over voter identification rules in multiple states as well as problems with poorly prepared election offices.
Ms. Arnwine said some voters in Pennsylvania were told they needed government identification when that was not, in fact, a requirement under the law.
She also said an election official in Pinellas County, Fla., reminded voters in ill-timed robo-calls Tuesday to vote the next day, a day after the elections.
She also said there were widespread reports of long lines throughout Virginia, including some locations where voters waited up to five hours.
“This is not the first time we’ve seen this,” Ms. Arnwine told reporters in a conference call.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department sent out more than 700 election monitors in 23 states as lawyers from both political parties and watchdog groups looked for irregularities.
In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie allowed voting by email or fax for residents in storm-ravaged parts of the state, but not everybody received a ballot back after sending in applications, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.
The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed an emergency petition asking a judge to intervene because of email voting problems across the state, according to the newspaper.
“The counties are so overwhelmed with these requests, they are not able to reply,” said Alexander Shalom, policy counsel for the ACLU, to the newspaper. “People have emailed in requests to get ballots, and they are not hearing back.”
In neighboring Pennsylvania, Republicans said dozens of election workers were denied access to polling locations in Philadelphia, where they were allowed access only after a court order.
A printing malfunction slowed in-person absentee voting Nov. 5 in Florida’s Palm Beach County, where some voters reported waiting up to six hours to cast their ballots, according to the coalition.
Florida’s Democratic Party filed, then quickly settled, a lawsuit over long early voting lines at several polling locations.
In Ohio, outside groups filed a court challenge over a directive from state Secretary of State Jon Husted saying early voters should show identification or write down the last four numbers of their Social Security numbers.
In Virginia, election officials were warning people to ignore any phone calls saying they could vote by phone.
The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk reported that there were lines of more than 300 people at one polling place early in the day because of voting-machine problems.
Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest regional security organization, sent 44 observers to watch the general election at the request of the U.S. government. The observers, part of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, came from 23 countries.
Chuck Neubauer contributed to this article.