There’s good news. Black voters are in the house this Election Day. From Massachusetts to Tennessee, blacks are letting their voices be heard.
Prof. Charles Ogletree reported that blacks in Massachusetts are determined not to be denied their right to vote. When the e-voting machines failed, they demanded -- and got -- paper ballots. When the polls were late getting started, election officials agreed to keep the polls open later. And it didn’t take a court order. Election officials may be slow but they know it’s a no-brainer to take on a bunch of lawyers breathing down their necks.
Ogletree: “People here up North are feeling a sense of renewal that their vote will be counted…People are stepping up to the plate and making a difference.”
Peteey Talley, convener of the Ohio Coalition on Black Civic Participation, reported on the difference that voter education has made in Ohio. Talley said her coalition got the word out that people could vote early, which has cut down on long lines. Poll workers were less stressful because there were fewer voters.
OK, the bad news. Dr. Joe Leonard of the Black Leadership Forum and Kirk Clay of Common Cause reported on calls to the National Voter Hotline 1-866-MYVOTE1.
Kirk gave a breakdown of the problems:
21% Voter Registration. In many cases, the registration forms completed at the Department of Motor Vehicles were not forwarded to local boards of elections.
13% Absentee Ballots. People don’t trust voting machines so they requested absentee ballots and are angry that they never received them.
My greatest fear is that voter confidence will begin to wear because of distrust of our electoral system. Callers are saying, ‘I don’t know whether my vote will be counted.'
Stephanie Jones, executive director of the National Urban League Policy Institute, added:
This is another wake-up call for us regardless of the outcome. This process must be fixed. As a nation, we can’t afford these kinds of problems to continue. We must have clean and fair elections so that everyone can have confidence in the electoral process.
I’m blogging from the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation’s war room. I had hoped to report that six years after the Florida electoral debacle, four years after enactment of the Help America Vote Act and billions of dollars spent on the machinery of our democracy, there would be no more drama at the polls.
Instead, early reports suggest that while some things have changed, restoring voters’ confidence in the integrity and fairness of the electoral process remains a challenge.
Kirk Clay of Common Cause reported that as of 1:30 pm, the National Voter Hotline at 1-866-MYVOTE1 received 15,000 calls. Clay characterized the tone of the calls as exasperating. “People are leery of the accuracy of the machines, which is reflected in the unusually high number of absentee ballots cast by African Americans in Tennessee and Virginia.”
In stark contrast to 2004 when calls to the hotline were about long lines, today there’s concern about the impact of technology on voters’ access to the ballot and whether their votes will be counted by the e-voting machines.
Ted Shaw of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who’s running a call center, reported “massive machine failures” in Mississippi. He also reported problems with poll worker error, poll worker training and voter confusion about poll location.
Shaw said: “There are two large sets of problems: training and machines, and competence and intentional action taken to suppress voter turnout or voter participation. We must monitor for those violations that are aimed at voter suppression whether through deceitful tactics or incompetence.”
The concern about voter suppression was also expressed by Harvard Law Prof. Charles Ogletree, who reported from Massachusetts. Ogletree reported a good turnout of enthusiastic voters. There were problems with voting machines in urban areas that were dealt with by lawyers on the ground.
Ogletree: “These are not southern problems. It’s a national problem…Our fight will start in the courts one minute after midnight.”
Dr. Joe Leonard of the Black Leadership Forum observed that voting problems from coast-to-coast show “the fracturing of our electoral process."
Marc Morial of the National Urban League encouraged folks to document the irregularities. “It’s important for us to do our job to protect the vote.”