Cites 'Widespread Reports' of Problems During Today's Primary, as Registration Issues in State After State Begin to Emerge
New Statewide Computerized Voter Roll Systems, Mandated by Help America Vote Act, Privatized by Voting Machine Companies Criticized by Experts...
By Brad Friedman on 2/10/2008, 12:30am PT  

More voter registration problems. This time in Louisiana during today's Democratic Party Primary. From the Obama campaign website just after 7pm ET tonight...

BATON ROUGE, LA— The Obama campaign submitted an urgent request for assistance to the Secretary of State’s Division of Elections today, after receiving widespread reports from Democrats across Louisiana who reported that they were not allowed to vote because their party affiliation had been switched. Hundreds of Louisiana democrats went to the polls to vote in today’s presidential primary and found that they were now on registration lists as Independent or Unaffiliated voters.

For what it's worth, Obama reportedly won today's primary, but problems with voter registration rolls are quickly emerging this year as a huge problem in state after state. Our reporting from just the last week reveals problem after problem...

Georgia: Widespread bottlenecks for voters as problems occur with Diebold's new e-pollbook system and the state's new Photo ID restrictions. Voters waited in line for up to two hours in some places.

New Mexico: 17,000 (11%) forced to vote on provisional ballots in Democratic Caucus as previously registered Democrats find they are no longer on voter rolls recently privatized by voting machine company ES&S.

Arizona: We've begun receiving reports from voters and local officials of polling places where some 40% of voters were forced to vote on provisionals, after state registration system outsourced to ES&S. [UPDATE: One such report is now published here, from a poll worker who reports that of 1291 ballots cast at her polling place, 540 --- some 41% --- were forced to vote provisionally.]

California: Various reports of voters registered for one party to find they were switched to another, or not registered at all. Confusion about how to handle non-partisan voters in Los Angeles County leads to nearly 100,000 votes which may not be counted properly.

Many states are just now fully implementing new, statewide, computerized registration rolls as mandated by the disastrous Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. The systems are being outsourced to private companies in many states, and more and more Election Days seem to be turning into Beta Tests for the new systems...

As well, an effort by the U.S. Department of Justice, purportedly to enforce HAVA, has led to letters recently being sent to 10 key states with threats of lawsuits if voter registration rolls are not quickly cleaned up. Those letters were sent by the controversial, and now-resigned, chief of the DoJ Civil Rights Unit's voting section, John "Minorities Die First" Tanner.

How bad is this going to get? Time will tell. But as the Century Foundation's election expert, Tova Andrea Wang, told Steve Rosenfeld at Alternet last night in his story on the New Mexico problems, these Election Day messes "highlight some of the potential pitfalls of some states implementing statewide voter registration databases...They have now been warned that this could be a problem."

Ellen Theisen, managing editor of VotersUnite.org, told Alternet she feels the New Mexico problem reveals again the danger of jobbing out what should be transparent, public functions, to private companies. "[It] underscores that all election functions need to be run by the public sector."

According to Rosenfeld, she went on to explain how the centralization and privatization of these systems are emerging as a big problem. "She also said voter lists need to be maintained from the local level up – not the other way around, where officials in the state capital or working for out-of-state companies are responsible for tracking who registers to vote, who moves and who dies."

Add to all of this the various Republican Party efforts across the country to "cage" voters, the practice of sending them registered mail marked as "Do Not Forward" or requesting a response, and then using the bounced mail or lack of response to then challenge the validity of the voter's registration before and during elections. One recent example was seen when the Kansas Republican Party chairman, Kris Kobach, bragged in his end-of-year letter last year, "To date, the Kansas GOP has identified and caged more voters in the last 11 months than the previous two years!"

This could be a very ugly year for voters. Again.