WASHINGTON: Only days before millions of Americans cast their ballots, a climate of suspicion hangs over Tuesday’s national elections.
Accusations of partisan dirty tricks and concerns about long voter lines, voting equipment failures and computer errors are rampant, particularly in key battleground states such as Ohio and Colorado, where absentee and provisional ballots could decide a close election.
“Those will be the states that are the most prone to confusion and chaos and contesting if the election is close or within what some people call the ‘margin of litigation,’ ” said Charles Stewart III, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology political science professor.
State and local election officials and partisan watchdogs are on alert for problems, as is the U.S. Department of Justice. All of them plan to post election monitors at potential trouble spots across the country.
Extra preparations will help, but they haven’t stopped reports of phony election workers showing up at people’s homes to collect their absentee ballots or anonymous callers falsely claiming that voters can stay home on Election Day and cast their ballots by phone.
With concerns running high about intimidation, voter suppression and poorly trained poll workers, many think that the integrity of the elections — and the officials who run them — has been compromised. Nowhere is that more true than in Ohio, where Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted has drawn the ire of Democrats by limiting the amount of time for early voting.
“It’s highly unfortunate that the rules of the game have become hyper-politicized,” Stewart said.
In their national bid to root out voter fraud, True the Vote, a conservative organization, might have hundreds of thousands of poll watchers nationwide. They plan to challenge voters they suspect of casting ballots illegally.
Labor organizations and voting rights groups, such as Common Cause and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, also will have poll watchers making sure that voters aren’t harassed by True the Vote members.
Accusations of partisan politics continue to roil voting preparations in Ohio, which many experts think could decide a close presidential race.
Earlier this week, Norman Robbins, the research director at the Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates, a nonpartisan voter-education group, notified Husted’s office that thousands of requests for absentee ballots may have been rejected improperly statewide because of incomplete data checks by local election officials. The checks mistakenly showed that the applicants weren’t registered to vote. Nearly 900 wrongly rejected ballot requests were found in Cuyahoga County alone, Robbins said.
In response, Husted’s office sent a directive to county election offices to try “at least one [of four] additional search criteria” if the name of an absentee ballot applicant doesn’t appear on the list of registered voters.
These kinds of problems are why Stewart thinks Ohio is the wild card in a close presidential election.
“If Ohio is within 2 percent either way,” he said, “then I think we’re in for about a three-week period of high drama over the canvassing of that election.”