Problems At The Polls? Vote Now, Complain Later

Voters' rights group advises you to cast a ballot by any means necessary.

Long lines and inclement weather seemed to be the biggest problems plaguing voters in the first half of Election Day 2004, although reports of voters having difficulty casting their ballots have surfaced nationwide.

But if you get to the polls and are given paper ballots because the electronic voting machines have malfunctioned, or you're handed sample ballots because the election officials ran out of proper provisional ballots, the message from pro-voting groups is clear: Vote now, fight later.

According to officials at the nonpartisan, nonprofit group Election Protection, a range of complaints have been fielded from around the country, many focusing on provisional ballots — those used when a potential voter's name is not on his or her district's master list. In those instances, the votes are logged but are not counted until it's determined that the individual is a registered voter. Election Protection members said in a telephone press conference Tuesday afternoon that many potential voters not on the master list were sent home without having cast a provisional ballot.

The first legal contest focusing on Election Day 2004 centered on the topic of provisional ballots. Voters in Ohio who never received their absentee ballots and were turned away from the polls early in the day without being given provisional ballots are being asked to return, after a federal court judge ruled Tuesday afternoon that they should have been given the provisional ballots in the first place. Unfortunately, U.S. District Judge David Katz's ruling came just hours before Ohio polls close at 7:30 p.m.

In a few rare cases where system failures crippled electronic voting machines, paper ballots were given, causing some suspicious voters to alert Election Protection. The group also cited complaints from voters in Pennsylvania who claimed they were asked to produce two forms of identification to obtain provisional ballots — the law dictates only one is required.

Reports also surfaced about some polls in Los Angeles and Florida that experienced machine failure and were forced to use sample and absentee ballots.

Should anything similar happen to you, the group suggests you vote first, and then report the problem to Election Protection, a similar voters rights group, or the office of your state's secretary of state, who is the chief election officer in each state.

In some cases, suspicious voters may be logging unwarranted complaints. When a voter casts a provisional ballot in some older voting machines, a lever has to be switched in the back of the machine. For the setting to return to normal, the lever has to be changed again. According to Scott Madere, the spokesperson for Louisiana Secretary of State Fox McKeithen, voters on line who see election officials repeatedly attending to a machine might suspect foul play.

Unfair and untrue practices have also been reported. A misinformation campaign has begun to spread through college campuses, claiming that students who vote may lose their financial aid. Yet federal law says that out-of-state students who legally change their place of residence to the state where they're attending school may lose grants and aid from their former state. The widespread distribution of such an ambiguous message just days before Election Day, however, has raised some eyebrows.

There have also been reports of people claiming to have received phone calls incorrectly informing them that their polling location has changed, or others that urged them to vote ... on November 3, a day after Election Day. The voice on some automated messages sounded like former Democratic President Bill Clinton, some complainants said, while others reported receiving a message that said only Republicans voted on November 2, and Democrats cast their votes on November 3.

Should you experience problems at the polls, contact your state board of elections, which can be found here.