Monitors hit polling stations to ensure fair voting in US elections

Reuters/Herb Swanson

Armies of election observers from both the Democratic and Republican parties will be stationed in and out of polling stations across the country today, to make sure voting goes smoothly. This is especially the case in Ohio, a swing state where groups have been questioning voter registrations to prevent what they say is voter fraud.


"The most common thing that is going to happen is that in Ohio, your driver’s license does not need to have the same address as your registration," explains Gena Shelton, who is coordinating election administration efforts with the Ohio Fair Elections Network.

She is speaking to two law students at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law, who will be volunteering as election monitors outside polling stations in Franklin county on election day.

Shelton tells them that if people are turned away from the polls because their driver’s license address does not match their registration address, they should be encouraged to go back in and insist on voting.

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The monitors will be handing out “Know Your Rights” cards and on standby if there any problems. Issues can be taken up with the board of elections, or at the very worst, by filing court injunctions.

Shelton says that volunteers will have to especially look out for ID issues. “A lot of people have cast provisional ballots,” she says. “[There are] long lines; people are confused." There is particular confusion around student polling locations.

She expects 35 to 40 volunteers to circulate among 60 to 75 polling places – about a quarter of the county. Her group has combed through demographic data to identify the locations that need extra monitoring.

"How many voters are registered to vote in a precinct? What percentage are African American? What percentage are Hispanic? What percentage of 18 to 24 year-olds? What percentage are over 65?" Shelton asks.

"When a polling location has a higher-than-average density of provisional ballots cast, or where they are all young people, or all minority,” she says. “If you have a high amount of any of those things, this tends to mean there are not necessarily problems, but it might mean that that polling station could just use some extra help."

They may need extra help, partly also because of other poll observers and monitors who might be challenging people's right to vote.

This is why third-year law student Brittany Talgot has volunteered.

"With everything I've heard in this election – that there are a lot of people trying to prevent people from voting – I really want to help counteract that,” says Talgot, “and make sure as many people can vote as possible, and that they're not turned away for reasons that don't matter."

Talgot is referring to groups like the Ohio Voter Integrity Project that had been calling into question voter registrations in the Cincinnati area.

They have been recruiting and training poll workers and observers of their own for election day.

Democrats say they are targeting students and minorities – groups who tend to vote left, if they do vote.

The group's website says it is acting lawfully by rooting out voter fraud, so that votes are counted "one vote per legitimate voter." It wants to advance unbiased elections "for all residents of Ohio regardless of race or party affiliation."

(Coordinator Mary Siegel denied a request for an interview, saying the Ohio Voter Integrity Project is not doing interviews before the election – no exceptions).

Additionally, there has been a battle in Ohio over voting hours, with the State's Secretary of State ruling to limit early voting hours, a decision that the US Supreme Court overturned.

But Gena Shelton is confidently optimistic that there will not be widespread problems on election day.

"I think the worst case scenario is what these anonymous bloggers are calling for: bussing in people to the polls to make sure that people are citizens or taking pictures of license plates," she says. "That makes people very uncomfortable voting and it hurts the process. So that would be bad. But I don't think it's going to happen."

She expects more mundane problems like broken voting machines or people confused about their polling locations.

What Shelton has told her volunteers is that she hopes they are bored: "that means things are running smoothly."

"The ideal situation is that they don't call me. I don't really want to talk to them in the field on election day. That means things have gone wrong," Shelton says. "Nobody thrives on an election day that's chaos. It doesn't benefit any party or anybody. It just creates chaos."

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