Ballots for ex-cons. Pleas for more voting machines. Registrations from the faked and the dead. And, yes, fears that voters will disrupt voting by wearing musical hats at the polls. You may think that Election Day is still three weeks away, but it's clearer than ever that the tumultuous process of picking our next president is far from a one-day affair.
Voters in Arizona, Ohio and a host of other states have been casting their ballots for weeks, stirring countless lawyers, elections officials and campaign operatives to seek legal injunctions, slam their opponents on conference calls and puzzle their way through the untested clauses of arcane elections codes.
With the stakes and number of voters never higher, it's a spectacle without precedent. Here are some of the highlights from last week:
Accusations of voter-registration fraud swirled around the left-leaning, get-out-the-vote group ACORN, with state and federal agents raiding its Las Vegas offices Tuesday and Republican operatives holding no less than five conference calls to link the organization with Barack Obama and accuse it of registering thousands of reportedly nonexistent, low-income (and largely Democratic) voters.
At least six states have reported receiving bogus registration forms from ACORN, but no one has yet been charged with wrongdoing. And political observers note that the GOP lobs fraud accusations at the organization almost every election cycle.
Several ACORN workers have pleaded guilty to fraud in the past, but the organization says that it's the real victim: ACORN alerts elections officials to questionable registrations (and is required by law to turn in ALL registration forms, valid or not) and seeks punishment of dishonest workers (they are paid by the hour, but evaluated on how many names they register). Meanwhile, criminal investigations of ACORN continue in Nevada and Indiana.
In a case that's emblematic of the political tug of war over early voting across the nation, a federal judge promises to rule today on whether early voting sites in three Indiana cities that favor Obama can stay open without violating county rules.
As ABC News' Ariane de Vogue reported, a Democratically controlled elections board decided, 3-2, in September to open the sites, giving the predominantly minority electorate in Hammond, East Chicago and Gary a place to vote early without traveling at least 45 minutes to Crown Point, the Lake County seat. The GOP argues that state law requires a unanimous vote for opening such sites, and in any case, Democrats would want them in more than just a few pro-Obama cities if the goal were really to enfranchise as many voters as possible.
States continue to struggle with when, how or even whether to let felons vote, an issue of increasing importance this year as political activists -- mostly Democrats -- push for putting more ex-cons on the rolls.
Every state except Maine and Vermont limits felon voting: 35 prevent parolees from casting a ballot, 30 bar people on probation, nine require a waiting period and two -- Kentucky and Virginia -- have almost complete prohibitions.
In Florida, more than 30,000 felons barred under state law from voting remain registered for the Nov. 4 election, according to a story Sunday in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.