Busy voter hotline expects to rack up record number of complaints

Busy voter hotline expects to rack up record number of complaints

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Callers reported intimidation, late poll openings and confusion by poll workers over ID requirements.

WASHINGTON – The largest nonpartisan voter hotline is expecting to receive a record number of calls regarding problems at polling stations across the nation.

“In Texas we have seen confusion across the board in regards to the ID requirements that are in place for voters. In Florida we have received an uptick in the number of voter intimidation complaints,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said at news conference in Washington, D.C.

The Election Protection Hotline, staffed by more than 8,000 volunteers, fielded about 5,500 calls by 9:30 am EST before all the polls were even open. As of 2:30 p.m., Clarke said the center received at least 20,000 calls. The states with the highest call volume were Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New York. (Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are swing states.) Calls included voters reporting intimidation, late polling-location openings, and confusion by poll workers as to the identification required for different states.

Kristen Clarke is president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which oversees the Election Protection Hotline.
Kristen Clarke is president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which oversees the Election Protection Hotline.

Clarke reported that poll workers were unsure of the voting requirements, citing calls from across Texas, and in Richmond, Va., where a poll worker was unsure of the conditions to issue provisional ballots.

“We are getting more calls on authority issues from voters, which means more time on the phone working with local election and state officials, spending more time to overcome and resolve the issues,” she said.

Clarke described the process when voters called regarding intimidation and polling-location issues.

“We contact local election officials,” Clarke said. “We look at the complaint carefully and closely to get as much information as is possible.”

Pam Smith from Verified Voting clarified reports of poll machine malfunctions in Durham, N.C. She said that electronic poll books in that city failed to let poll workers check in voters, but that the issue was resolved by workers using back-up paper poll books. As of 2:30 p.m. EST, e-poll books were back online.

“At first, people were saying the voting machines were down. It wasn’t that; it was actually the electronic poll books,” Smith said.

In 2013 the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 landmark decision that certain voting restrictions under the 1965 Civil Rights Act were unconstitutional and outdated. As a result, at least 800 polling places previously protected have closed.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, called election "chaotic."
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called the election “chaotic” for many voters.  (Photo: The Leadership Conference)

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the Supreme Court decision Shelby County vs. Holder has disrupted the election for minority communities.

“There is tremendous disruption at all the polls today all across the country. In fact, this election may be the most chaotic election faced by voters of color, and voters with disabilities that they have faced in the last 50 years,” Henderson said.

He added that these barriers to voting in the communities have a real-world impact on voters.

“What we are seeing today is a perfect storm for voter disenfranchisement,” Henderson said. “These irregular procedures, voter ID and changes have had a disruptive effect on the election.”

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