Malfunctioning machines and other problems

Al Jazeera rounds up reports of voting irregularities from across the United States on Election Day.

Poll workers
There were reports of voter intimidation in Pennsylvania and malfunctioning machines in Ohio on Tuesday [Reuters]

The Republican Party in the United States has spent months warning its supporters about a possible epidemic of voter fraud on Election Day.

Their fears are distilled into this video making the rounds on social media, which warns of nefarious liberal organisations committed to “tilting the outcome of elections.” Sarah Palin, the GOP’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, tweeted a link to it this morning, urging voters to report any suspicious behaviour at their polling stations.

But the idea that voter fraud is widespread is, to put it bluntly, a lie. An analysis of every alleged election fraud case since 2000 found just 10 cases of in-person voter fraud.

Ten cases – this in a country with nearly 150 million registered voters.

Instead, the real problems on Election Day seem to be malfunctioning voting machines, unprepared poll workers, and aggressive groups trying to disenfranchise voters outside their polling stations.

Ironically, there were also reports that a right-wing group called True the Vote, whose stated objective is stopping voter fraud, may itself be investigated for fraud.

We’re rounding up some of the Election Day complaints from across America.

Want to vote for Obama? Sorry

A voter in Pennsylvania posted this video today, which he says shows a voting machine which simply will not let him vote for Barack Obama (via Gizmodo).

There’s no proof that the video shows anything nefarious, of course – this could just be a malfunction. The man who posted the video wrote this on YouTube:

“I initially selected Obama but Romney was highlighted. I assumed it was being picky so I deselected Romney and tried Obama again, this time more carefully, and still got Romney. Being a software developer, I immediately went into troubleshoot mode. I first thought the calibration was off and tried selecting Jill Stein to actually highlight Obama. Nope. Jill Stein was selected just fine. Next I deselected her and started at the top of Romney’s name and started tapping very closely together to find the ‘active areas’. From the top of Romney’s button down to the bottom of the black checkbox beside Obama’s name was all active for Romney. From the bottom of that same checkbox to the bottom of the Obama button (basically a small white sliver) is what let me choose Obama. Stein’s button was fine. All other buttons worked fine.”

“I asked the voters on either side of me if they had any problems and they reported they did not. I then called over a volunteer to have a look at it. She him hawed for a bit then calmly said: ‘It’s nothing to worry about, everything will be OK.’ and went back to what she was doing. I then recorded this video.”

The team at Al Jazeera’s The Stream secured the first interview with the voter, identified by his username “centralpavote”. Read their analysis online here.

Disenfranchising voters in Pennsylvania

Also in the Keystone State, a judge in Allegheny County ordered Republicans to stop demanding ID from voters outside their polling stations. This is illegal; voters only have to show their ID to the poll workers inside, not to individuals outside.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

County officials received a complaint shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday that Republicans outside a polling location on Maple Street in Homestead were stopping people outside the polls and asking for identification.

The order states: “Individuals outside the polls are prohibited from questioning, obstructing, interrogating or asking about any form of identification and/demanding any form of identification from any prospective voter.”

The judge said their activities could “have a chilling effect” on voter turnout.

Voting machines break down in Ohio

From our D. Parvaz, reporting this morning from the working-class neighbourhood of Hough in Cleveland, Ohio, where voters are angry that a voting machine has already broken down:

Tim Holt, 68, walked out of the voting booth muttering that the “Republicans are cheating already”.

“It’s not scanning the ballots, so we’re supposed to just leave it at the bottom there [in a slot]. They say they’re going to count them later. Now does that sound right? It should be counted now. They started cheating. That’s not right.”

True the Vote barred in Ohio

The group we mentioned above, True the Vote, has been barred from polling stations in Ohio for a rather ironic reason.

True the Vote is affiliated with the Tea Party. It focuses its efforts on minority communities, and it has been accused of voter intimidation and “caging,” a practice where groups accuse would-be voters of being improperly registered. 

The group had applied for certification as an election observer in Frankin County, which includes the city of Columbus, the Ohio state capital. But the county election board denied that application, according to a report in the Columbus Dispatch, because the group did not have enough support from local candidates. And election officials say they may investigate whether some of the names on the group’s application were forged.

The president of the group, Catherine Engelbrecht, called the decision “a final, desperate attempt to deny citizens their right to observe elections.”

Registered voters not showing up in Pennsylvania

The names of registered voters are not showing up on the rolls in Philadelphia, and they’re being forced to cast provisional ballots. From the Philadelphia City Paper:

Some poll workers are not even instructing people that they can file provisional ballots, and other voters are reportedly just walking away in frustration.

Poll workers and Obama campaign volunteers are anxious at the Acelero Learning center (23rd and Montgomery), where an estimated fifteen registered North Philly voters have been forced to vote using a provisional ballot.

Provisional ballots are not counted until days after the election, so they won’t affect tonight’s results.

Misleading robocalls to Florida voters

The board of elections in Pinellas County, which includes part of the Tampa metropolitan area, placed misleading robocalls to tens of thousands of voters, wrongly informing them that they have until 7pm on Wednesday to cast their ballots, according to the Tampa Bay Times:

On Monday, election officials sent out a reminder to 27,917 people saying ballots must be returned by 7pm “tomorrow” – or Tuesday. But for reasons unknown, 12,525 of those calls wound up in a queue and were not placed until between 8 and 8:30 a.m. this morning.

Some voters realised the call was incorrect and tried to notify the board of elections; it’s unclear what effect the message will have on turnout.

Colorado voting machines switching votes?

The Colorado secretary of state’s office is investigating claims that voting machines in Pueblo are switching votes from Mitt Romney to Barack Obama, according to local TV station KRDO:

The Pueblo County Republican Party said they’ve heard of more than a dozen reports of the problem.

One voter, who didn’t want to use her name, told KRDO Newschannel 13 that when she hit the touchscreen for Romney, a check mark appeared next to Obama’s name. She said she asked for help to fix the problem, but still feels unsure about her vote.

Pueblo is a heavily Democratic city in southern Colorado. We visited there earlier this year for a report on how the tough economy is changing votes in the Latino community, which makes up 50 per cent of the population.

Source: Al Jazeera