Watching At The Polls, Before And On Election Day

by ekramer on October 28, 2008

Voters and those involved in getting votes counted on Election Day are calling this election a big one. And with its record numbers of registered voters there’s more scrutiny of the voting process. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

The high interest in this year’s elections have government and party officials agreeing on the some of the scenes you’ll see at the polls on Nov. 4:  Long lines and possibly throngs of campaign workers outside. They’re talking about it among themselves, to journalists and at the Jefferson County Clerk’s office’s recent training for poll workers.

In the Iroquois High School auditorium, poll workers are learning about what should happen if a machine fails, if a ballot is spoiled and if somebody’s name is not listed correctly on the voter rolls. Attorney Sarah Martin explains the law regarding those campaign workers.

“When you all came in this morning, there were some candidates out front handing out their campaign material,” Martin says. “That’s electioneering and that’s prohibited within 300 feet of the polls on Election Day.”

Poll workers are trained to report people who disobey the rule. In Indiana, campaign workers must stay 50 feet from a polling place.

But while you’ll see these workers at the polls and others campaigning for candidates, there are many facets of the process you don’t see, and many of them are happening now.

The offices of county clerks around the region are overseeing early voting and the preparation of voter rolls. They are checking individual names and addresses against registration forms.

“Like this young man. He’s living on Mariana Drive. He should be OK. Yes. This one’s OK. So, good.”

That’s Floyd County Indiana Clerk Linda Moeller as she goes through a stack of absentee voter applications, while dozens of early voters line in a hall outside her office in the City-County Building in New Albany.

“What I’ve been going through this morning is — we call them our problem children— is to fix them and send them back to the person and let them know that there is something wrong with them, send them a registration form,” Moeller says. “It’s just kind of working with that person to say ‘This is what’s not right with your application; this is what you can do to fix it.'”

Moeller says she and her staff have been meticulously handling the paper work to avoid problems come Election Day. She says there will be more scrutiny of voters’ detailed information due to Indiana’s voter identification law. Upheld by the Supreme Court in April and one of the nation’s strictest, it requires all voters to present a state or federally issued photo ID.
¼br /> Some polling places in Jefferson County and in Southern Indiana will have partisan poll watchers. Both Democratic and Republican leaders in Indiana say they will have watchers at some precincts to make sure no one is inadvertently or intentionally kept from voting, if legally eligible.
¼br /> Sometimes referred to as “challengers,” party officials throughout the country are talking about deploying more of them for this election to guard against fraud and voter intimidation. That includes Tim Longmeyer, chair of the Jefferson County Democrats.

“Critical things for us to have: eyes and ears out in the county so we can respond if there are any legal issues that should arise,” Longmeyer says.

What those particular issues would be, Longmeyer doesn’t specify. But researcher Laura Seago has some ideas about issues that might pop up. She’s with the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan research group at the New York University School of Law.

“I think that we’ll see challenges if there’s a lot of machine failure and contingency plans aren’t necessarily deployed widely or if a huge number of voters are being forced to vote by provisional ballot,” Seago says.

Seago does see another problem, one that exists in several states, including Kentucky. There is no state law guiding how vote totals are reconciled after they are counted at the precinct level and delivered to county level. In Jefferson County, vote totals are only reconciled if the election results are challenged.

Despite all the other preparation and contingency plans that are in place, Seago and others say problems are bound to arise with the expected high voter turnout. But they don’t know exactly what or where those will be.

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