ATLANTA – A national voting rights group said Friday it documented hundreds of voting irregularities affecting poor and minority voters in seven Southern states — from long lines and faulty equipment to deliberate voter intimidation (search).
"While the United States of America is a strong democracy, it is also a flawed democracy," said Keith Jennings, director of Count Every Vote 2004 (search), formed after the 2000 election to assure voting rights for "underrepresented and marginalized sectors of the population."
The group sent monitors Tuesday to 700 precincts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. Their goal was to observe such issues as the timely opening of polls, the presence of correct ballots and functioning machines, and the impartiality of elections officials.
Among their preliminary findings, the group listed a shortage of early voting locations in Duval County, Fla., the largest county in Florida in area and voting-age population, the failure of electronic voting machines (search) in three South Carolina counties, and the loss of votes at a North Carolina precinct when too much information was stored on a computer unit.
"In one case, sprinklers came on while people were waiting to vote and the poll workers didn't know how to turn them off," said Alma Ayala, who monitored voting in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Volunteers with the organization met Friday at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church — where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached — to compile their findings and plan for collecting new information.
Group leaders did not know exactly how many irregularities were cited and could not say which states appeared to have the most. They said those issues will be more fully explored in their final report, to be issued in about two weeks.
But volunteers provided anecdotal evidence of voting problems in every state they monitored.
Randall Tussaint, who helped register voters and monitor polls in an eastern Georgia congressional district, cited a precinct at historically black Savannah State University where the 25 provisional ballots provided were gone by 11 a.m.
Some voters whose registration status was unclear after that time left without voting, he said.
In Florida, monitors said they observed prospective voters leaving polling places when they saw long lines for last week's early voting. Faulty equipment and sub-par facilities in some poor neighborhoods also contributed to possible voter disenfranchisement, they said.
The group's preliminary report made some positive observations.
The report applauded increased voter participation and numerous "get out the vote drives" and called elections throughout the South "relatively well administered."
But members said the fact that the presidential election's outcome is not being challenged — as it was in 2000 — should not obscure problems that still occurred.
"We had an election on Nov. 2 that fell outside the zone of litigation," said Patrick Merloe, an attorney and human rights activist who has observed elections in 27 countries. "That does not mean we had an election that met acceptable standards."