Where should the polls stay open?

Analysis of breaking news events.
Nov. 4 2008 8:50 PM

Where Should the Polls Stay Open?

The question of the evening.

(Continued from Page 2)

E-mail us at slate.votingtrouble@gmail.com if you have something to report. … 2:05 p.m.

Ohio Republicans are worrying about the state's infamous provisional ballots. Again. These ballots are the ones voters file if they're challenged at the polls or vote late; they aren't counted until after the election. Earlier in the month, the Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit by the state GOP over whether the Ohio secretary of state (Democrat Jennifer Brunner) had to turn over the names of thousands of newly registered voters that didn't appear to match other state records when Brunner said the glitches were due to errors in record keeping, not fraud or other real problems. Today, the GOP filed the suit for the second time, amending it to claim (among other things) that Brunner hasn't ensured the uniform counting of provisional ballots and has "seemed to encourage local officials to overlook non-matching signatures." As a result, the votes of legitimate voters are being impermissibly "diluted," the suit claims.

This is a placeholder lawsuit: It will allow the Republicans to contest the results of the election after the fact under the federal Constitution, because Ohio has an unusual rule that took away the right to contest results in state court, says Ned Foley of Ohio State University's election law project.

It's also worth noting, though, that there are no reports as yet of hundreds or even tens of people leaving the polls because of the long lines in Ohio or any other battleground state. Also, no suits over the waiting times in places like Pennsylvania and Missouri. So maybe the delays aren't disenfranchising people, so far. … 12:50 p.m.

Starbucks is halting its much-publicized plan to give voters free coffee today. It turns out that offering "gifts" constitutes a felony under election law in many states. In Georgia, for example, "Any person who gives or receives, or offers to give or receive, or participates in the giving or receiving of money or gifts for the purpose of registering as a voter, voting, or voting for a particular candidate in any primary or election shall be guilty of a felony" (via the Atlanta Journal Constitution). But the coffee chain has found a way to foil the election Grinches—they're extending the freebie to everyone who orders a tall brewed coffee. Alas, no caramel lattes. … 10:50 a.m.

Lines, lines, and more lines. So this is what happens when Election Day turns into the main attraction opening at a theater near you. As Nathaniel Persily of Columbia Law School points out, this is when early voting starts to look like a real blessing.

In Virginia, waits of two hours or more around Richmond and half that in other parts of the state. Reports of machines breaking and jamming, though some of them are getting fixed. Also, phony calls telling people their polling places have changed. Hang up!

In Pennsylvania, early-morning backups. Also in Michigan and Missouri. A polling place in Kansas City, Mo., had the wrong list of voters, causing more delays. So much for voting before work. The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., sensibly reminds readers that around 10 a.m., the rush should ebb for a few hours. Till lunch? … 10 a.m.

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Misinformation roundup: In Indiana, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, robo-calls and fliers are instructing people to vote on Wednesday (via ourvote.live.org). Likewise, in North Carolina, fliers left on cars at a shopping mall instruct Democrats to vote on Wednesday and Republicans to vote on Tuesday (via the Brennan Center for Justice). Also, a reader reports that someone hacked into the provost of George Mason University's e-mail account and sent this message to the whole student body: "To the Mason Community: Please note that election day has been moved to November 5th. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you." … 9:19 a.m.

Over at Election Law@Moritz, Ned Foley says he's especially worried about Pennsylvania on Tuesday. His big concern is overcrowding. The governor and the mayor of Philadelphia warned on Monday that polling places may be overburdened by heavy turnout and urged residents to vote midday, rather than before or after work. Last week, a court ordered the Pennsylvania secretary of state to issue emergency paper ballots if 50 percent of the machines at a polling place malfunction. The ruling is framed in terms of the problem of voters waiting in long lines and as a protection of their constitutional rights. Foley asks, "If a polling place has only 50 percent of the voting machines that it arguably should have to handle the level of anticipated turnout," is that the same sort of constitutional violation that the court found in last week's ruling?