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Debacle at the polls

Both CBS News and ABC News are currently leading their Web coverage with stories on polling-place problems. Here's a snippet of CBS's piece:

Reports are coming in from election protection groups suggesting that Virginia, a key battleground state, is having the most problems, with 20-plus cities and counties having serious problems: machines breaking down, substituted paper ballots being stuffed into suitcases, boxes and duffle bags (poll officials telling voters they will be counted later), unbearably long lines, frustrated voters walking away. This has some voters worrying that their votes won’t be counted....

In contrast, MSNBC is accentuating the positive, focusing on just how many people are showing up to vote. But a post this afternoon on its First Read political blog struck a grimmer note:

VIRGINIA: Dozens of polling places are experiencing varying degrees of machine malfunctions. Some polling places are either completely closed or have been closed for hours. Thousands of voters may have been turned away illegally by polling workers. Voters have illegally been issued with provisional ballets where machines have been broken.

Students at Virginia Tech, previously the victims of misinformation, have seen their polling place suddenly and unexpectedly moved six miles to a location with little parking.

PENNSYLVANIA: Voting machine malfunctions are widespread and at least a dozen locations, mainly focused on Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Election Protection has received reports of campaign materials being illegally distributed at polling locations in Pittsburgh. Voters across the state are reporting that they never received their absentee ballots, which is creating additional chaos at the polls.

To reiterate: Virginia is a key battleground state. Also, note that an upset in Pennsylvania would greatly increase the likelihood of a national McCain win; and that diminished turnout in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh will almost certainly hurt Barack Obama.

Whatever tonight's outcome, this is an embarrassment.

P.S.--The NY Times has an informative, easy-to-read running post on voting problems at The Caucus. Among other things, it discusses the possibility of the '08 election being decided by a Bush v. Gore-style post-election fight, something I addressed in a recent Phoenix article:

The Ohio Republican Party re-filed a lawsuit it previously dropped against the Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, claiming that she has not done enough to ensure that provisional ballots are counted properly and uniformly in all counties across the state.

Ohio State University law professor Edward Foley, an election law specialist, said the lawsuit was a placeholder to be used by the Republicans to challenge the final results if the outcome in Ohio is close, using the Bush v. Gore decision by the Supreme Court in 2000.

“They are specifically relying on Bush v. Gore and 14th Amendment and claiming that Secretary Brunner’s rules in handling provisional and absentee ballots are not uniform throughout the state of Ohio,” said Mr. Foley. “This new filing appears to be an effort by the Republicans to have the process for verifying provisional ballots be handled in their own lawsuit rather than another lawsuit filed by a advocacy group for the homeless.”
Remind me again why we presume to teach democracy to the rest of the world? 
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