Some voting issues surface across battleground states

After voting, Mike Weigart, 30, carries his ballot and his surfboard to the ballot box at the polling place, the Venice Beach lifeguard headquarters, in Los Angeles. “It’s awesome the polling place is where I surf,” he said. Enlargephoto

Reed Saxon/Associated Press

After voting, Mike Weigart, 30, carries his ballot and his surfboard to the ballot box at the polling place, the Venice Beach lifeguard headquarters, in Los Angeles. “It’s awesome the polling place is where I surf,” he said.

Americans overcame epic lines, confusion about new laws and even polling places crammed into tents in parts of the Northeast that were still without electricity to cast their ballots Tuesday.

Even before lunchtime, a handful of those partisan disputes and Election Day glitches started spilling into courtrooms. Still, most of the hassles voters faced were isolated, and none appeared substantial enough to change the outcome of anything but the closest contests.

Many problems – and certainly the most closely watched – came in battleground states widely expected to determine the outcome of the presidential election. Voters reported waiting in line for hours at some polling sites in Florida and Virginia, and encountering malfunctioning voting machines in key Ohio precincts.

“It was a long line but everything was orderly, and for most people, that’s their experience on Election Day: an orderly process,” said Michael McDonald, an election law expert at Virginia’s George Mason University. “There’s no shouting, nothing going on. Everybody manages to vote, and it’s done.”

Still – as happens every Election Day – reports of problems piled up nationwide. By Tuesday evening, civil-rights groups said they had fielded more than 80,000 such reports on a website and telephone hotline.

One of the most common complaints, they said, came from confusion over new voting laws that require people to show identification before casting a ballot. Those measures, which backers said were designed to prevent fraud, drew widespread criticism from civil-rights groups, who feared that the poor, minority and elderly voters who are less likely to have identification would be disenfranchised. Some voter-ID laws were rejected in court, but others went into effect this year.

In Pennsylvania, civil-rights groups complained that workers at some polling sites were requiring voters to show identification, even though a federal judge decided last month that the state’s new voter-ID law could not be enforced this year. That led to some voters being turned away, said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. In Pittsburgh, she said, voters reported being told outside the polls that they would need to show a photo ID inside.

“It is absolutely unconscionable, and people ought to be ashamed,” she said. Matthew Keeler, a spokesman for Pennsylvania’s elections office, said officials heard of only a “few scattered reports” of people being asked for identification when they should not have been, and that state officials had contacted elections workers in those counties to make sure people were able to vote. “Nobody is supposed to be turned away,” he said.

In Connecticut, where legislators rejected a measure that would have required voters to show a photo ID, poll workers in a handful of towns had incorrectly been “asking for more ID than required,” said Av Harris, a spokesman for the Connecticut secretary of State. State law allows voters there to show a utility bill or Social Security card as identification.

Other disputes were headed to court by midday.

In Philadelphia, GOP officials went to court after accusing Democratic poll workers of excluding their volunteers from voting sites. A court quickly ruled that they must be let in.

And in Ohio, where officials reported scattered problems with electronic voting machines, a federal judge on Tuesday rejected a challenge to the use of those machines. U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost said in a written order that the Green Party candidate who brought the challenge “has demonstrated zero likelihood of success based on the evidence presented.” Another federal judge scheduled a hearing for Wednesday morning in a lawsuit challenging the way Ohio counts provisional ballots.

© 2012 USA TODAY. All rights reserved.

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