WASHINGTON – With Election Day fast approaching, some Americans have gotten a jump on the process. But although voters thought getting to the polls early would ensure a smooth process, some ran into problems along the way.
Early voting has been underway in North Carolina (search) for nearly two weeks, but some voters are questioning the supposed impartiality of poll workers.
FOX News heard voters complain that some poll workers suggested they cast their ballot for the Kerry-Edwards ticket without offering any alternative. In one case, a worker reportedly voted for a handicapped senior citizen without even asking her choice.
Diane Thomas, a self-employed author and Web site builder who is a registered Republican, said she voted at the Steel Creek Library (search) in Charlotte on Tuesday. A poll worker activated the voting machine but then wouldn’t leave, Thomas said.
“She began gesturing on the screen. 'This is where you vote for president,' she said, drawing an underline on the screen which left a mark, ending right under John Kerry's box. My jaw dropped. I said 'You can't do that.' She said, 'I'm just showing you where to vote for president,'" Thomas told FOX News.
Other early voters reported the same scenario at different polling places.
Dr. David Newman, an OB/GYN and a registered Republican, voted at the University City public library in North Charlotte. After signing in, he was escorted to the voting machine by a female poll worker who activated the machine.
"The worker said, 'In order to vote for him' — and her finger was directly over the John Kerry-John Edwards button, 'you push right here.' There was nothing vague about it. My jaw dropped. I was shocked. I was too stunned to reply. I called the Republican Party,” Newman said.
Ron Dauenhauer, a businessman and a registered independent, went to vote at University City public library in North Charlotte. While standing in line outside, a poll worker handed large yellow sample ballots to the people on line and made references to voting for the Democratic ticket but said nothing about Republicans.
“I felt this violated the rules,” Dauenhauer said, adding that he called the Republican party in Raleigh to report what he saw. The GOP filed a complaint on the matter.
Election officials admit there have been some problems in Charlotte but one official said the poll workers were just trying to be helpful.
Michael Dickerson, director of Charlotte’s Board of Elections, offered one possible reason for the seemingly pro-Kerry comments by poll workers. “Maybe because Kerry’s name is the first one on the ballot,” Dickerson said, adding that poll workers are supposed to be impartial and not name parties or candidates.
North Carolina does have a favorite son in the race. Sen. John Edwards, the running mate on the Democratic ticket, represents the state in Congress. But the state has been a reliable backer of Republican presidential candidates for years — the last time it voted Democratic was in 1976 for Jimmy Carter.
In this election, North Carolina is leaning toward giving its 15 electoral votes to President Bush. In other statewide races, GOP Rep. Richard Burr and Democrat Erskine Bowles are fighting for the Senate while Democratic Gov. Mike Easley is favored for re-election.
— FOX News' Heather Nauert contributed to this report.
Poll Worker Woes
Roughly 1.4 million people have been trained to serve as poll workers on Tuesday, about the same as four years ago, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. But with turnout expected to be much higher this year, elections officials are concerned they are short about 600,000 workers.
The EAC has urged businesses and federal agencies to give volunteers a day off with pay to help staff polls and teach new and experienced voters how to deal with new-fangled voting machines.
But as the last deadline for training new workers passed Friday, critical shortages remained in many states.
"If the criminal justice system didn't have access to jurors, the criminal justice system wouldn't exist. Poll workers are just as important as jurors," said DeForest Soaries Jr., chairman of the EAC and former New Jersey secretary of state.
The shortage is acute in urban areas where workers should be able to speak multiple languages. Soaries is most worried about New York City, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Chicago and Los Angeles.
The other problem facing officials is the lack of commitment among volunteers: Only two out of every three poll workers trained shows up on Election Day. Another problem facing election officials is the failure of trained workers to volunteer for a second election.
Los Angeles County Registrar Connie McCormack said in March 2002, 125 precincts opened late because no workers were available. The county, the nation's largest, tapped business owners, county workers, leaders of ethnic groups and even high schoolers to find the 25,000 poll workers it will need Tuesday.
So far, the federal government's workforce hasn't been much help. Only 14 of the 100,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture employees who received an e-mail Oct. 21 asking them to volunteer signed up.
A looming threat for future elections, officials say, is that the most reliable volunteers are retirees. The EAC estimates that the average poll worker is 72 years old.
"I don't want to sound crass, but poll workers are passing on," said Michael Sciortino, president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials and director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections.
"Where's the next generation of poll workers?" asked Kay J. Maxwell, president of the U.S. League of Women Voters. "We need passion about this whole process and civic participation."
Of course, each city has experienced different responses to go with their offers to get volunteers. Election officials in Indiana have wooed union members and unemployed factory workers with stipends of $75 for rank-and-file poll workers and $150 for precinct leaders. Kentucky officials have asked sheriffs and judges to enlist volunteers and even recruited at summer festivals. A new Ohio law gives state and local government employees a paid day off to work the polls.
New York City pays among the best — up to $300 for a day's work at the polls. But the shift typically lasts from 5 a.m. until the polls close and votes are counted.
In California's San Luis Obispo County, Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald was able to get a raise for poll workers — to $97, plus $10 for attending a three-hour training course. She also created split shifts and flex time — a nod to stay-at-home parents who told her they could volunteer only during school hours.
"It definitely helped us, and since 2002 we've been able to get fully staffed polls, knock on wood," Rodewald said.
California's Santa Clara County recruits high school seniors with at least a 2.5 grade-point average. They'll be excused from class Tuesday to help ensure voters are at the right precinct, translate for voters who don't speak English and set up electronic voting machines.
But many election officials are concerned that the recruiting efforts could go too far.
Elections supervisor Ann Ward Bodenstein in Florida's Santa Rosa County said she would never recruit in a high school. She relies on the region's ample stock of military retirees.
"If you have a child trying to tell someone who fought in the Vietnam War what to do, that doesn't go over very well," Bodenstein said. "Really, they have no business being there if they're not registered voters."
—The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Scene in the States
Many states are facing legal challenges over possible voting problems Tuesday. A look at some of the latest developments:
The Latest Reports
The Secretary of State's office said that as many as 2,300 Arizonans who registered to vote over the Internet may be missing from voter rolls. County recorders said some voters were rejected because their forms were improperly filled out, and that others appear on the rolls with name variations. Recorders have been instructed to take measures to ensure that properly registered voters are not turned away.
A Republican operative filed suit against a civil rights organization for allegedly neglecting to turn in voter registration forms collected from citizens during a petition drive. The suit, filed on behalf of 11 Floridians, accuses the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now of using the registrations as a ruse to get people to sign a minimum wage petition. ACORN said the suit is politically motivated.
Nearly 1,000 people who voted by absentee ballot were asked to recast their votes because the ballots they used lacked the necessary signatures of the election commissioner or a representative. New ballots were sent to voters by overnight mail.
A review by the Milwaukee city attorney's office found hundreds of addresses that the state Republican Party had claimed were incorrect or nonexistent. The state GOP has asked the Wisconsin Elections Board to remove the names of about 5,600 registered voters from the rolls, claiming addresses listed with city officials are fictitious. The city attorney's office found problems with the GOP's database, but a Republican official said most of the addresses are invalid.
Oct. 28: Republican poll watchers filed a complaint claiming election officials in the Democratic stronghold of Pueblo County failed to require early voters to produce identification.
Oct. 28: The machines that Boulder County uses to count votes bogged down in a recent test, choking on improperly marked ballots and prompting a three-day review to determine the final result.
Oct. 27: As many as 3,700 people have registered to vote in more than one Colorado county this year, nearly two-thirds of them college-age voters, the Denver Post reported. Election officials said they are working to catch double registrations but concede double voting might occur.
Oct. 26: A federal judge left it up to the voters to decide on Election Day whether to change the way Colorado distributes its electoral votes for president. The judge dismissed a lawsuit that challenged a Colorado ballot proposal involving the Electoral College.
Oct. 25: Boulder County officials defended their election system against a privacy lawsuit, saying serial numbers on ballots cannot be used to reveal how an individual voted. Six voters filed a lawsuit last week saying the ballot numbers and bar codes violate their privacy rights.
Oct. 21: The secretary of state issued strict guidelines for poll watchers across the state, limiting each party to one person per station and banning outside groups from sending out teams of lawyers to monitor the election. Parties use poll watchers to keep track of turnout and watch how balloting procedures are performed.
Oct. 20: A company hired by Denver to print and mail absentee ballots failed to send out about 13,000 ballots, but election officials hoped to get them to voters by the end of the week.
Oct. 28: A state appeals court ruled that Florida acted properly when it adopted a rule for manual recounts in 15 counties that use touch-screen voting machines.
Oct. 26: A judge ruled that state election officials will not be required to process incomplete voter registration forms for the presidential election. At issue are registration forms from voters who do not check a box confirming they are American citizens, even if they sign an oath swearing they are citizens.
Oct. 26: Nearly 300 voters in St. Petersburg received absentee ballots that were missing the second of two pages, Pinellas County elections officials acknowledged. County Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark promised Tuesday to correct the error by Nov. 2. Her office has mailed the inadvertently omitted page to the 293 affected voters, along with an explanation and a postage-paid envelope.
Oct. 25: A judge ruled that Florida's touch-screen voting machines do not have to produce a paper record for use in case a recount becomes necessary. A Democratic congressman had filed the lawsuit, seeking a paper trail or a switch to paper ballots in 15 counties.
Oct. 25: A judge denied a request from a coalition of unions and black groups to add four early voting sites in Duval County, home to Jacksonville.
Oct. 21: A federal judge said the state must reject provisional ballots if they are cast in the wrong precinct — another defeat to Democrats who wanted looser requirements. The ruling is in line with one handed down this week by the state Supreme Court in a similar case.
Oct. 21: Republicans accused Democrats of breaking political money laws in Florida. They said Democrats engaged in cozy arrangements among candidates, unions and outside fund-raising groups as part of an effort to turn out voters. Democrats said the allegation was absurd.
Oct. 21: Tens of thousands of Florida voters may be illegally registered to vote in two states, and more than 1,600 may have cast ballots in Florida and one of two other states in recent elections, the Orlando Sentinel reported in Friday's editions. The Sentinel examination of voting records from Florida, Georgia and North Carolina found more than 68,000 cases in which voters with the same names and dates of birth were registered in two states.
Oct. 28: Nearly 100 Hispanic voters were summoned to a Georgia courthouse to defend their right to vote, based on a complaint that an Atkinson County board ultimately threw out. Three men filed the complaint against 78 percent of the rural county's Hispanics, alleging that a county commissioner had attempted to register non-U.S. citizens to vote.
Oct. 20: A group of international election observers said in a report that Georgia's electronic voting machines should create paper receipts and poll workers should get more training. The report is the result of a visit to Georgia in September by a 20-member team of civic leaders, professors and lawyers from 15 countries.
Oct. 25: Officials denied a request to extend the counting period for absentee ballots that are postmarked before the election but not received until afterward. The decision does not affect military votes. Other ballots received after the close of polls on Election Day cannot be counted under Illinois election law.
Oct. 28: The attorney general said election officials will not count ballots cast in the wrong precincts on election night, but will set them aside in the event of a lawsuit seeking to determine their legality.
Oct. 27: Five voters who sued the secretary of state over a provisional ballots decision did not exhaust administrative remedies, the state argued in court. The plaintiffs, who argue ballots cast in the wrong polling place may dilute properly cast votes, present their arguments later Wednesday.
Oct. 26: Five Republican voters have filed a lawsuit challenging a rule requiring provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct to be counted. A judge was set to hear arguments Wednesday.
Oct. 26: A federal appeals court ruled that provisional ballots cast outside the precinct where a voter resides cannot be counted in Michigan. The ruling followed a similar decision by the same court in an Ohio case over the weekend. It is yet another defeat to Democrats over provisional ballots.
Oct. 21: Top elections officials said they were worried about the ramifications of a court ruling this week on how to handle provisional ballots. They are concerned about voter confusion and whether they will have enough time to provide local clerks with the proper Election Day instructions.
Oct. 29: Media groups asked Minnesota's county auditors to grant journalists complete access to polling places. The request was in response to a new state law that requires journalists to have a written letter of permission from election officials to observe in a polling place.
Oct. 25: Two Republican voters asked a Nevada judge to reject a Democrat's request to reopen voter registration based on his claim that his voter application form was destroyed by a GOP-funded group. The Republicans said one voter's complaint should not apply broadly to all voters. Nevada's voter registration deadline was Oct. 2.
Oct. 20: The state's top elections official insisted that exit pollsters for media outlets must stay 100 feet from the polls to ensure "hassle-free, intimidation-free" voting sites. The law is intended to block partisan activity near the polls, but an attorney for news organizations including The Associated Press questioned why it should apply to the media.
Oct. 26: A judge ruled that voters will be able to use electronic voting machines Nov. 2, rejecting an effort to alter the way 3 million residents cast their ballots. The judge said the machines have a long record of being reliable.
Oct. 26: The state Republican Party filed a complaint with the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections, charging election officials coached voters on how to cast a straight Democratic-party ticket. Mecklenburg County is home to Charlotte.
Oct. 21: At least half of North Carolina's National Guard troops in Iraq didn't receive their absentee ballots in time for their votes to be counted, said Lt. Michelle Locke, who helped with voting at a base northeast of Baghdad. Locke, who didn't get her ballot, said troops who wanted to vote in the Nov. 2 general election received special all-write-in ballots that had been sent by the military in case something went wrong.
Oct. 29: Republicans lost an attempt to restart hearings on thousands of voter registrations that the party has contested. The decision by state attorney general refused to comply with the request.
Oct. 28: A former Cincinnati City Council member and her husband sued to stop GOP representatives who plan to challenge voters about their identity and voting qualifications in Hamilton County.
Oct. 26: The secretary of state ordered county election boards to let voters whose registrations are successfully challenged to still cast provisional ballots on Election Day. The order followed the Ohio Republican Party's challenge of the registrations of 35,000 voters last week.
Oct. 26: The U.S. Supreme Court declined to put Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader on the ballot in Ohio.
Oct. 25: Republicans withdrew thousands of challenges to new voter registrations because of errors in their filings apparently caused by a computer glitch. In filing the challenges, the GOP said mail sent to the newly registered voters was returned as undeliverable.
Oct. 21: County elections officials say a court battle over the votes of people who go to the wrong polling place has left them unsure how to train poll workers and what to tell voters about where they can cast ballots. Ohio is the site of an intense, back-and-forth legal battle over provisional ballots.
Oct. 29: A federal judge approved a settlement between Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and the parents of two servicemen who sued to extend the deadline for counting overseas military and civilian ballots for president.
Oct. 20: Workers taking part in a Republican-funded voter registration drive said they were told to avoid signing up Democrats or people who might vote for John Kerry. The Republican National Committee denied the accusations and suggested that Democrats were orchestrating the charges.
Oct. 20: A health organization that promised flu shots on Election Day in six of South Carolina's poorest counties has drawn criticism from Republicans that the effort is politically motivated. The GOP says some of the targeted counties are Democratic-leaning. The organization denied the allegations and said the mailing was sent to areas with low vaccination rates based on federal data.
Oct. 28: The Justice Department will send out three times as many poll watchers on Election Day than in 2000. The watchers will be looking for difficulties with absentee ballots and the handling of ballots cast in the wrong precinct.
Oct. 29: The state GOP asked the Wisconsin Elections Board to remove the names of about 5,600 people registered to vote in Milwaukee. Republicans said the addresses listed with city officials are fictitious. A board attorney there was not enough time to convene a hearing on the matter.
Oct. 28: The superintendent of Milwaukee schools halted a get-out-the-vote program involving students after complaints were raised about its link to a pro-Kerry organization.
Oct. 28: Milwaukee's election commission threw out a complaint alleging that more than 5,600 addresses on the city's voter rolls may not exist, saying Republicans had not proven the registrations were invalid. GOP officials said they visited 37 of the addresses and took pictures showing vacant lots, a gyro stand and a park. Democrats said typographical errors and old registrations could have accounted for the discrepancies.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.