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Publication: Progressive Review
America Is Unprepared For Nov. 4th

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - May 26, 2008
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Voting Rights Advocates Say America Is Unprepared 
for Massive Turnout November 4 
by: Hazel Trice Edney, The Louisiana Weekly

Washington - Record turnouts at polling places across the 
nation during the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton battle for 
the Democratic nomination have revealed a continuation of 
serious flaws in America's electoral process that could 
cause a fiasco Nov. 4, according to a non-partisan report. 

"The report demonstrates that most of the state and county 
and local election machinery was unprepared for a real 
heavy turnout," says Barbara Arnwine, executive director 
of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, 
a primary partner in the Election Protection Coalition 
that has manned voter protection hotlines since January. 
"It really demonstrates that our democracy has deep fault 
lines and is not being administered well...We are not 
prepared. We actively count on a low voter turn out and 
count on voter apathy." 

The 15-page, "Election Protection 2008 Primary Report", 
jointly compiled and distributed by the Lawyers Committee 
and the National Campaign for Fair Elections, says lawyers 
and other volunteers who manned voter question and 
complaint hotlines over the past five months fielded more 
than 5,000 calls that include complaints and charges 
revealing everything from serious mechanical flaws to 
apparent intentional shenanigans and voter intimidation 
at the polls. 

Few problems have occurred in affluent areas, but they are 
mainly happening in low income, Black and Hispanic neighbor-
hoods. Because Black voters typically cast 90 percent of 
their ballots for Democrats, mishaps at the polls could 
cause another Election 2000-styled fiasco in the event of 
a close race between the Democratic nominee and Republican 
John McCain. 

"Unfortunately, the encouraging story of record turnout has 
been tempered by voters in each primary reporting they were 
underserved by the infrastructure that supports the election
process," the report states. "While each state had a unique 
set of issues at the polls, there are some common obstacles 
that voters across the country faced." 

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Among the worse states was Pennsylvania, where more than 
1,000 calls flooded the 1-866-Ourvote hotlines April 22. 

Among the complaints: 

* In Pennsylvania's Delaware County, one voter was told the 
  voting machines at her precinct were set for Republicans 
  only. The voter was not able to cast a vote.

* Another Pennsylvania voter took her child with her, but 
  a poll worker refused to allow the child into the voting 
  area with her, claiming that her child "can read." 

* Yet, another Pennsylvania caller said building materials 
  were being thrown off the roof of the polling place to 
  prevent voters from entering.

* Finally, in Pennsylvania, a caller reported a polling 
  location with only three voting machines and no printers 
  working. Voters were leaving without being offered 
  emergency ballots. 

* In the Georgia primary Feb. 5, a man allegedly from the 
  secretary of state's office walked around in a uniform 
  and a gun asking people if they belonged there. He left 
  within 10 minutes after a call to the secretary of 
  state's office, Arnwine says. 

* In Denton County, Texas, March 4, disabled voters were 
  directed to the back of the building where there was no 
  assistance for them to go up the stairs to the voting 
  area. 

* Untrained poll workers, ballot shortages, registration 
  roll problems and confusion over voter identification 
  requirements. Also, some 57 percent of Super Tuesday 
  complaints had to do with equipment failures. 

Arnwine credits the massive increase in voter turnout for 
revealing the flaws in the system. 

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"The irony is that pundits and columnists and people are 
constantly criticizing the American electorate for not 
engaging in the election process and not actually coming 
and casting their votes," she says. "Yet, when you get 
even a 40 percent turnout verses the historical 15 percent 
turnout, the electoral machinery just crashes, it just 
implodes, it can't take that amount of voting. What if 
80 percent turned out?" 

According to David Bositis, a senior analyst at the Joint 
Center for political and economic studies, voting in 
presidential primaries has been as low as 10 percent in 
past years, but has gone up and down, depending on the 
candidates, the issues and the excitement of the race. 

"Twenty percent would be considered a really outstanding 
turnout," he says. 

Arnwine says the hotlines will remain alive until the final 
primary June 3. Then they will reopen in August through 
Nov. 4 to advise people through the registration process 
as well as on general election day. 

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A team of lawyers and other volunteers that make up 
Election Protection Legal Committees will be meeting with 
heads of electoral boards, secretaries of state as well 
as the U. S. Election Assistance Commission in order to 
report problems and work out solutions, she says. 

Meanwhile, the report recommends: Improving poll worker 
training; ensuring proper protocols for dealing with 
election machinery breakdowns; guaranteeing that all 
eligible registrants make it on to the registration 
rolls; and widely publicizing correct requirements and 
restrictions about voter identification and other 
procedures. 

"We're very, very on top of this," Arnwine says. She adds 
that they have not ruled out court action if necessary. 

"If we can tell in advance that a jurisdiction is not 
properly prepared and has not set up the amount of voting 
sites that are needed, does not have or has not set up 
[appropriate] election equipment, or enough poll workers 
in advance, absolutely, we will take whatever action is 
necessary." 

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