Civil rights groups and election officials fielded thousands of reports of voting irregularities as voting began across the country Tuesday, with voters and advocates complaining of broken machines, rejected ballots and untrained poll workers improperly challenging Americans’ right to vote.
A coalition of voting-rights organizations reported more than 10,000 calls by 11:30 a.m. – a higher call volume than in any recent midterm election – and referred many of them to state and local election officials, the groups said in a news conference in Washington. Together, the organizations have deployed about 6,500 lawyers and monitors across 30 states to protect ballot access – more than any previous election.
In Georgia, voters waited more than four hours to vote at an elementary school in suburban Atlanta, where some voting machines were not working at the start of the day. Reports of broken machines also surfaced in New York and Arizona.
“This was voter suppression at its finest,” said Takeye Sneeze, 35, a truck driver who said she watched 100 voters leave Annistown Elementary School after discovering the voting machines weren’t working. Seenze said she arrived at 7 a.m. to discover a long line already formed. Voting didn’t start until after 11 a.m.
Gabe Okoye, chairman of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, said voting at Annistown Elementary would be extended 25 minutes, but he was seeking a delay of one hour.
In North Dakota, a voting-rights lawyer said dozens of Native American voters were being turned away because of issues with their identification. Poll workers were rejecting identification issued by tribal officials, advising voters not to initial ballots even though the law requires it and discouraging voters from casting provisional ballots when they arrived without proper identification, according to Carla Fredericks, director of the Indian Law Clinic at the University of Colorado.
“After I caught a voter who was being denied his right to vote and told him to go back in and request a set-aside ballot, the election worker told me I was interfering and need to leave,” said Fredericks, a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, located in central North Dakota.
Complaints also emerged of voting machines flipping voters’ choices in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas and Illinois, and of voters with limited English proficiency in the Houston area being blocked from bringing an interpreter with them to vote, as required under the Voting Rights Act, according to civil rights groups.
“We will continue to provide these updates and field these reports throughout the day and throughout the night, and work with election officials to troubleshoot and resolve them,” said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of multiple groups that have teamed together to monitor elections and run a voter hotline this year.
“If we need to, we’ll go to court,” Clarke said. “Our goal is to make sure that every eligible American that seeks to have their voice heard is able to do so this election cycle.”
In the run-up to Election Day, rash of concerns about ballot access flared across the country. Candidates in both parties traded accusations about threats to ballot integrity amid multiple reports about voting irregularities.
Some of the heightened anxiety results from a spate of restrictive voting laws passed by Republicans in recent years now affecting voting in closely contested races for House, Senate and governor. Republicans have said the tough new rules are necessary to combat voter fraud, while voting rights activists argue that the laws disproportionately affect young Americans and minorities, who tend to vote Democratic.
President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday warned against voter fraud, although study after study has shown there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Voting-rights advocates accused them of trying to intimidate voters of color.
Accusations of intimidation also surfaced Monday when the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to run a “crowd-control” exercise near a Hispanic neighborhood in El Paso Tuesday – the hometown of Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a closely contested race in Texas.
On Tuesday morning, U.S. Customs and Border Protection abruptly canceled the exercise after critics raised concerns about voter suppression.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Amy Gardner, Beth Reinhard