Nov. 7 Nightmares: When Voting Goes Bad

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

People wait in line for early voting in the parking lot of Northland Park Center in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 4, 2012

As Americans count the hours until the election is over, thousands of lawyers for the Obama and Romney campaigns are preparing for the possibility that the counting of votes will stretch well beyond Tuesday night.

Nine swing states hold the keys to victory in the race for the White House, and most polls have them within the margin of error, albeit with a distinct Obama edge. Many have mandatory recounts if the difference between the candidates is within a few percentage points (in most cases that amounts to several thousand votes). Come Wednesday morning, there is currently an 8% chance, according to the New York Times’ Nate Silver, that one of these states will hold up the determination of a winner in the contest.

If that happens, things will get ugly. All clean presidential elections are alike — whoever gets 270 Electoral College votes becomes President. But each contested election is a misery all its own. In addition to the classic problems from past elections like crowding, difficulty counting ballots and complaints of limited voter access, this year the expansion in early voting holds a new set of concerns.

(PHOTOS: The 2012 Presidential Election Year in Pictures)

Here are some of the ways things could go wrong on Tuesday and what a battle in each state might look like.

OHIO

Ohio is the first concern, because it will most likely be the decider — Silver gives it a 50% chance of being the difference maker in the election. And already, there are signs of problems.

Jon Husted, Ohio’s secretary of state, mailed every one of Ohio’s more than 7 million registered voters an absentee-ballot application. Of the 1.4 million ballots that were sent out in response, most have been returned, but several hundred thousand haven’t. That could mean a jump in provisional ballots on Election Day, as voters who received ballots by mail won’t be allowed to cast binding ballots at the polling places. Provisional ballots from those voters, combined with the tens of thousands from voters who are challenged at the polls for improper ID, changed home addresses or other reasons, could become an issue.

Ohio has seen its share of legal wrangling. Husted fought to block early voting the weekend before the election but lost in the Supreme Court. Democrats, meanwhile, challenged a last-minute directive from Husted that would require election workers not to count provisional ballots if the voter didn’t accurately fill out paperwork. Things may get even messier after the election. Ohio’s board of elections will conduct a recount if the margin of victory is 0.25% or less, or in the range of 17,500 votes. Despite the state’s well-designed recount process, campaign lawyers are likely to challenge many votes if the margin is that close.

The result of a hung vote in Ohio in a close race could be a lengthy delay in determining who becomes President. Ohio doesn’t start counting provisional ballots until Nov. 17, and legal challenges could push it into December. The deadline for resolving Electoral College disputes is Dec. 11.

(INTERACTIVE: 2012 Electoral College Calculator Map)

VIRGINIA

In Virginia, there are also potential ballot-day problems. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are essentially tied in the latest polls there, and voters who show up to election sites without acceptable identification will be forced to cast a provisional ballot. According to state law, these voters “may submit a copy of one of the required forms of identification to the electoral board in person or by facsimile, electronic mail, or other means by noon of the third day after the election.” This means voting may not be completed in Virginia until noon on Friday.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that poll workers will begin counting provisional ballots as soon as identification is presented, but counting could extend up to a week after Election Day. In the 2008 presidential election, less than 5,000 provisional ballots were cast in Virginia, but the state’s voter-ID law passed after that election, could increase the number this time around. Unlike some voter-ID laws, Virginia’s statute allows voters to present a wide range of documents to verify their identity, including current utility bills, paycheck stubs or employer-issued photo ID cards.

WISCONSIN AND IOWA

In Wisconsin, where a brutal gubernatorial recall vote was fought in and out of the courts for two years, Obama campaign staffers are looking for a fight over voter intimidation inside polling places, where they contend election officials have been overzealous in challenging voters. The campaign says it has 1,000 volunteer lawyers statewide to address the challenges.

In Iowa, the fighting has already started. The New York Times reports that:

Republicans on Sunday night accused Democratic operatives of encouraging older voters to illegally fill out absentee ballots for their family members. A letter to the state’s top election official from the chief counsel of the Republican National Committee said that a news report of “the alleged conduct of Democratic and Obama operatives, if true, is highly disconcerting.”

(PHOTOS: America Votes: Election 2012)

FLORIDA

Florida is unlikely to be the decider this time, but given its history, early-voting snafus have some observers worried. An election official in Miami-Dade County spontaneously extended early-voting hours over the weekend, then canceled them, then opened them up again. The Tampa Bay Times has a thorough list of potential problems here. Again, mounting numbers of provisional ballots will pose a problem if the race is close and goes to a recount.

OTHER STATES

In a turnaround, the Republican National Committee has raised questions in the past week about electronic voting machines switching votes from Romney to Obama in Nevada, Colorado and elsewhere. Traditionally, it has been the left that has given credence to the idea that electronic voting machines are secretly programmed to steal elections.

As for the troubles from Hurricane Sandy, it appears that the remnants of the storm, while still very unpleasant for many, will not complicate the selection of our next President, though its after-effects continue to make life difficult for New Jerseyites and New Yorkers as they try to vote.

MORE: Past Is Prologue in Presidential Race’s Closing Arguments

22 comments
LogicalPosition
LogicalPosition

Philly: Mural of BHO in a polling station, New Black Panthers posted at polling stations..OUTRAGEOUS! Time is trying to give BHO the election by refusing to cover such stories and by declaring BHO's election a done deal.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"...there is currently an 8% chance, according to the New York Times’ Nate Silver, that one of these states will hold up the determination of a winner in the presidential contest."

I hear there's a 9.5% chance that a Beltway legacy "journalist" will write an informative article about the coordinated, multi-state, Republican campaign of voter suppression. Let's call it a long shot.

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

Its quite simple, the Republicans benefit from a low voter turn out and the Democrats benefit from a high voter turn out.  In key states with Republicans in charge, we have problems over and over as they find new ways to prevent voters who are likely to be Democrats from voting or new ways to not count those votes if they are cast.

CthulhuShrugged
CthulhuShrugged

What amazes me most of all is the fact that there is nothing - nothing at all - beyond the western border of Wisconsin.  Here there be dragons!I know it's hard to remove oneself from the all-encompassing sphere that is East Coast - and as far as electoral votes go, you're not wrong, per se, except y'know... maybe Colorado & Arizona - but it's just sort of disheartening and sickening that as far as anyone's concerned in 2012, Wisconsin in the edge of the universe...

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

Joshua 24:14-15.........14 Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: ........ 15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve ......

LesMoore
LesMoore

". . . counting of votes will stretch well beyond Tuesday night."

Unfortunately, that won't stop the media from calling the race at about 10:00 tonight.  It's all about being first.

LiberalLies2012
LiberalLies2012

This is nothing new. Democrats have always said "vote early and vote often". This is why a voter ID program is so imperative to have an election that is as free from fraud and abuse as possible, but that would clearly go against the time honored tactics of the left from stealing elections.

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

@CthulhuShrugged Right you are.....we are slaves to the system that none of us had anything to do with creating.  

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

@PlumbLine Someone should send that to the Republicans in the house.

CthulhuShrugged
CthulhuShrugged

@LiberalLies2012 and once again in glaringly obvious irony of the commoent goes sailing, unimpeded and with miles of room to spare, over the shrunken head of Mr. RustyFreedomBlog

MrObvious
MrObvious

@LiberalLies2012 

but that would clearly go against the time honored tactics of the left from stealing elections.

I'm guessing that's why righties are trying so hard to suppress votes. Or why I get robo calls telling me to vote on Nov 7th. Or you have systematic voter registration fraud from righties and you have a fraction of individuals on the dems side doing something similar.

It's strange that with righties you have the machination of throwing legal voters off voter rolls, suppressing votes and limiting voting hours - you have well funded organizations robo calling to confuse people and committing voter registration fraud.

But what gets you in a tissy is the IMAGINATION of something you can't show the effect off. Who are you going to believe - your own hysteria or your lying eyes?

bobell
bobell

Everyone  but the cheaters wants an election that is as free from fraud and abuse as possible.  Unfortunately, the abuse is perhaps a hundred times more prevalent than the fraud, and it comes almost exclusively from the Republicans.

After 2000 (Florida) and 2004 (Ohio), the Republicans have zero credibility on the issue of stealing elections.  Those of us who are sane fear that John Husted will become 2012's poster child for voting abuse.

CthulhuShrugged
CthulhuShrugged

@LesMoore Were that the case, what would the point be  "You've indicated you're voting/voted for me, let me annoy you robotically." ?No, robocalls, like any other blanket marketing campaign, are fundamentally not targeted... they get a list of phone numbers, they call them, D, I or R.  Robocalls are the Dresden of elections.