MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota Republicans failed Tuesday in a bid to push the liberal group MoveOn.org (search) away from polling places, as a judge refused to grant a restraining order. Elsewhere, complaints of voting problems were isolated despite immense turnout.
Six women in Duluth reported being challenged by a GOP monitor who called police after an election judge cleared the women to vote. In Red Lake, a Republican challenger was ejected by tribal police after complaints that he was approaching voters and intimidating judges.
The GOP said both challengers raised legitimate questions about voters.
Ballots were running low in a few places, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer (search) reported late Tuesday afternoon. But she said precincts could easily get or photocopy more, and urged voters not to worry about being turned away.
The GOP court challenge against MoveOn came after reports that the group's activists were operating inside the 100-foot cushion around polling places, and even working inside some precincts.
But Hennepin County Judge Frank Connolly declined to intervene, saying it appeared poll judges were enforcing the law against electioneering properly.
At Monroe Elementary School in St. Paul, head election judge Joseph Claus asked the group's volunteers to move their booth from a street corner near the school farther away, across the street.
Several of the precincts where Republicans objected were in St. Paul, but police spokesman Paul Schnell said officers determined that nobody was doing anything "illegal or unacceptable." He said all the calls had come from citizens, not election judges.
The MoveOn activists were among hundreds of observers and poll challengers sent to polling places by independent groups and the state's two main political parties in anticipation of a high turnout — and potential problems — in this battleground state. The parties were allowed one monitor inside each polling site, but both also placed lawyers and other volunteers outside to watch and help voters with questions.
In Red Lake, police Capt. Dwayne Dow said the Republican challenger "wasn't following the rules that were set" for conduct in precincts. The chief judge asked that he be removed, Dow said.
"The chief judge who handled these challenges was trying to deal with all the challenges but then it became a problem where she'd write things down and he'd do another one," Dow said. "It just became intimidating in there."
Eric Bearse, who was coordinating the GOP's effort on voting challenges, said removing the challenger was "an outrageous abuse of our election law."
"What this amounts to is a concerted effort to bully a challenger who's upholding the law," Bearse said. He said judges were vouching for voters, in some cases even voters they didn't know, he said.
The report from Duluth came from Election Protection Minnesota (search), a left-leaning group. According to spokesman Bill Lofy, the women were challenged, told they had the right to vote, and then held up when the Republican challenger was not satisfied. When an election judge told the women to go ahead and vote, the challenger called police.
The women were eventually allowed to vote, according to Election Protection Minnesota. A call to Duluth police wasn't immediately returned.
Bearse said the Duluth challenger raised a question when one person vouched for nine women, "at least one of which didn't know her own address." He said the challenge was reasonable.
State election officials urged people to vote early in the day, and samples of a few precincts suggested many people tried to avoid a post-work crush. At Monroe, in St. Paul, 1,200 of 1,600 pre-registered voters had cast their ballots by 5:30 p.m. Similar numbers were seen elsewhere.
At Robbinsdale City Hall, Republican Doyle Randall, 48, a certified public accountant, wore a bright yellow badge that said "Poll Challenger" and wore a cell phone headset connecting him to the GOP effort.
"I'm here to make sure that who is supposed to vote is voting — we don't want a Chicago-style ... election," he said.
Just a week before the election, about 2.98 million Minnesotans were pre-registered to vote — 4.4 percent more than the 2000 election. And many others voting for the first time, such as immigrants, planned to register on Election Day. Kiffmeyer said absentee ballot submissions were about double what they were four years ago.
Minnesota allows voters to register at the polls if they have proper identification, proof of address, or a registered voter in that precinct who will vouch for them. Early indications were that most people turned away from polling places had either reported to the wrong precincts and were sent to the right ones, or that they had trouble satisfying election judges that they actually lived in the precinct.
In one instance at Robbinsdale City Hall, a woman who had recently moved brought her driver's license with her old address and a cell phone bill. The election judges decided her cell phone bill didn't qualify as a utility bill, which the state considers valid proof of address with ID. They told her to come back with an actual utility bill.
But Kiffmeyer later said a cell phone bill does count as a utility bill.
At the Earle Brown Elementary School in Brooklyn Center, Donna Hanes, 68, and her son, Craig Hubbard, had to struggle to register to vote.
They said they closed on selling their old house last Wednesday and were staying at a motel until their new home is ready. They said they first went to their old precinct but were turned away because they didn't live there anymore. Earle Brown was the polling place for both their motel and their new home.
"It's my right as an American citizen to vote," Hanes said. "They're telling me now I can't vote, but that's not the American way."
Hubbard said they were eventually told to get a statement signed by their motel manager and countersigned by someone else attesting that the manager was, in fact, the manager. But he said they weren't guaranteed that this would satisfy the poll judges.
"We're getting this run-around," he complained. The couple eventually were able to vote after showing the statement from the hotel manager.
Also among the observers in Minnesota and several other swing states were delegates from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — a first for elections held in the United States.
Two OSCE observers, parliamentarians Goran Lennmarker, of Sweden, and Stavros Evagorou, of Cyprus, were at Robbinsdale City Hall when the polls opened.
Lennmarker said they came to see whether any voters were turned away, and to see whether there was any harassment involved in the challenging process.
"We expected calm, proper, correct. It's quiet so far," Lennmarker said.