Lawyers who volunteered to take calls and monitor polling locations nationwide on Tuesday reported voting machine malfunctions, polling places opening late and numerous incidences of names missing from voter registration rolls.
In Ohio, New Hampshire and Virginia, lawyers scrambled to file court documents in election-related lawsuits. But in most states, lawyers were working to prevent litigation by fielding calls at centers housed at area law firm offices or traveling to polling locations to address voter concerns. Some states had unique issues, such as improper signage in Florida, missing absentee ballots in California and a shortage of interpreters for Asian-American voters in New York’s Chinatown.
Most of the lawyers who volunteered were part of Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition that is administered by the Voting Rights project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Jon Greenbaum, director of the Voting Rights Project, said the election did not go smoothly in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan and New Jersey.
Most of the problems in those states related to the optical scan machines, which were implemented since the last election after complaints about electronic voting machines. On Tuesday, the scanning machines broke down, leading elections workers to hand out paper ballots as an alternative to thousands of voters, said Greenbaum. Additionally, many ballots were put in duffel bags and even thrown on the floor by poll workers.
The bottom line, according to Greenbaum: “The system is not designed to deal with a high turnout election and we’re seeing the effects of a lack of planning and resources.”
Scanning machines didn’t work in Florida, either.
In Broward County, voters vote by blackening circles on vote cards. The cards are then fed through optical scanners. Each precinct has just one scanner. According to Valerie Shea, a partner at Gordon Hargrove & James who headed the operation in Broward, the scanner broke in a few precincts, so poll workers collected ballots and promised to feed them through later.
“Voters get upset when the optical scan machines are not working,” Shea said.
Gordon Hargrove & James, in Fort Lauderdale, is hosting a call center with 10 lawyers manning the phones and another 10 lawyers roaming the field.
Similar call centers were set up in Miami-Dade County, at the offices of Washington’s Hogan & Hartson, and in Palm Beach County, at the offices of New York’s Proskauer Rose.
Volunteers in Florida also received calls about improper signage at the polls and voters wrongfully being turned away because they were told they already voted in early voting. Also, one election official locked the poll lists in her car accidentally, and a precinct ran out of ballots.
Perhaps most concerning, Shea said, were reports that voters in Pompano Beach, Fla., were intimidated by numerous police at the polls. “They were apparently intimidated by what appears to be excessive police presence,” she said.
Despite the problems, Shea said the election is still going far smoother than ones in Broward County in 2004 and 2000, because so many people voted during early voting. “Early voting took a lot of the burden off,” she said.
Additionally, the problems in 2000 and 2004 concerned touch screen machines mysteriously switching candidates after votes were cast. Now that touch screen machines are not being used, that problem no longer exists, she said.
Voting machine breakdowns also were reported in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and jammed machines popped up in San Francisco and Los Angeles, said Jenny DaSilva, a volunteer attorney who was working in the San Francisco call center at Bingham McCutchen, which sent more than 120 lawyers to polls in Florida, Nevada, Virginia and San Francisco.