Voting Problems Persist as Election Nears

Despite snags, Americans have been breaking early voting records.

Oct. 20, 2008— -- ACORN ad nauseam, troubling typos in registration rolls and voters potentially turned away for want of a checked box. The pressure for a punctilious combing of voting records continues, yet through it all, the voters persevere. From North Carolina to Illinois to Nevada, an astounding number of Americans have been breaking records by turning out early to vote. Here's the latest:

ACORN: Yet Another Press Conference? The FBI has picked up the scent of suspicious registrations from this embattled get-out-the vote group but is apparently proceeding with less than full-throttle enthusiasm. ACORN said federal agents have not contacted it, and the bureau is looking into reports of bogus registration cards in states like Nevada rather than investigating ACORN itself.

One factor constraining the FBI may be a reluctance to get involved right before the election in the high-profile -- and deeply partisan -- controversy over ACORN's efforts to sign up voters. And this can't help: The New York Times reports that so many agents are investigating terrorism, there aren't enough to probe any wrongdoing behind the financial crisis. Think ACORN's high on the list of priorities?

Still, the Republicans press their case. On Friday in Pennsylvania, the party sued ACORN to force it to give election officials lists of everyone it registered in the state and to pay for ads reminding voters that they need ID at the polls. The lawsuit also asked the secretary of state to make sure polling places have enough provisional ballots for voters whose registrations can't be processed by Election Day.

For the record, Acorn acknowledges that some of its workers have submitted bogus registration forms, but it says it catches and flags most of them for voting officials. And they represent only a small fraction of some 1.3 million new voters the group says it has registered this election year.

ACORN argued that it is the real victim here, facing not only crooked employees but violence and threats as well. Last week, vandals attacked the group's Seattle and Boston offices, and an ACORN employee in Cleveland said she'd received death threats. This time, it's ACORN that's calling in the FBI. The group scheduled yet another conference call today to discuss the development.

No Match, No Vote I. When one courthouse door closes, another opens: Late Friday, Ohio fundraising consultant David Myhal kept alive the GOP's voter-registration battle with state Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, by filing in Ohio Supreme Court a suit akin to one the Republicans lost just hours before in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The GOP and Myhal said Brunner is required to fight fraud by giving local officials a list of some 200,000 new voters who filled in voter registration cards with driver's license or Social Security numbers that don't match a state database. Brunner refused, arguing that the mismatch list is meant to be used for updating the database, not for disqualifying voters. Besides, the mismatches almost always result from typos and the like, not fraud. Why risk bumping 200,000 new registrants from the rolls, just because of typos?

But Republicans weren't appeased, and they navigated several levels of lower courts before the Supreme Court shut them down Friday. The justices didn't say the GOP was wrong, just that the law probably doesn't allow private citizens to enforce it. End of story for the GOP.

Enter Myhal, a Republican. His suit makes the case that the law requires Brunner to guard against voter fraud, period, and she's not doing it. The court has asked Brunner to respond to the suit today, and for both sides to file briefs by Friday. Meanwhile, 200,000 new voters stay registered, typos and all.

No Match, No Vote II. In Florida, the law is already clear: Election officials must disqualify voters whose registration records don't match state data. No voting is allowed until the discrepancy is resolved. Secretary of State Kurt Browning has taken a lot of flack for enforcing the No Match, No Vote law since it went into effect Sept. 8 after years of litigation, but things got worse last week. State records show that in Orange County, college students and Hispanic residents got dinged more often than anyone. The county's election supervisor said it's because students' handwriting is "horrible" and Hispanics use hyphenated names that fool the state database. No matter the reason, there's a striking political consequence: Forty-six percent of rejected voters are Democrats, only 9 percent Republicans. The rest showed no party affiliation. And yes, the presidential race is expected to be tight again in Florida.

No Check, No Vote. Thousands of Colorado voters must be kicking themselves for failing to check a box -- and losing their right to vote. Voters have to check the box on registration forms when they don't have a state ID or driver's license and must use a Social Security number for identification. Not checking it would seem a trivial oversight. Yet Secretary of State Mike Coffman, a Republican, is sticking to the view that an unchecked box doth an incomplete registration form make, and said noncheckers must remedy the situation before they are allowed to vote. At first, Coffman incorrectly determined that the fix had to come before the Oct. 6 registration deadline. He admits his error now, but voters must still complete new forms before Election Day.

Good Ol' Political Chicanery. Montana Democrats got vengeance on Republican leaders who challenged the registrations of about 6,000 voters in almost exclusively Democratic counties just because the voters had filed change-of-address forms. The Democrats sought a court order blocking the challenges, and the Republicans backed off just before a ruling was issued.

But when the ruling did come down, the language stung: "The timing of the challenges is so transparent it defies common sense to believe the purpose is anything but political chicanery," wrote U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in denying the order as moot. The Republicans "filed false affidavits with the express intent to disenfranchise voters." Ouch. Democrats were planning to pursue their suit against the Republican leaders for trying to intimidate voters but dropped the case late Friday.

Open a Poll, and They Will Come. Early voting starts today in Texas, Idaho and Colorado, but it has been going on for some time in a number of states across the country, and get-out-the-vote types couldn't be happier:

In North Carolina, Thursday, the first day of early voting, drew more than 100,000 people to the polls, blowing away by about 40 percent the record set in the 2004 presidential election.

On Saturday, the sixth day of early voting in Illinois, new turnout records were set in Cook County and the city of Chicago, with more than 1,000 people heading to the polls in the suburbs and 9,000 in the city.

Also on Saturday, in Las Vegas and Clark County, Nev., 15,300 voters had turned out by 2:15 p.m., smashing the old 2004 record of 14,000 before the day was even done.