Persistent reports of robocalls incorrectly telling voters they can cast ballots over the phone and fears of aggressive challenges by monitors at polling places threaten to mar Election Day in many key states, voting rights advocates said Monday.
The fake phone calls, some of which involve live callers, continued to crop up in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, primarily among African-American voters, said Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The group has mounted a counteroffensive of tens of thousands of calls reminding voters they can’t cast ballots over the phone.
“That is really dirty,” said Arnwine, who added that the callers’ identities remain a mystery. “It’s a very sophisticated operation, and it’s very widespread, and it’s very troubling to us.”
The last-minute telephone tactics are only the latest in months of legal and political battles over more-restrictive voter ID and other laws, mostly fruitless hunts for supposedly ineligible people on voting rolls in many states and sustained claims that African-American and Hispanic voters are being targeted for intimidation and suppression.
Many of these issues could resurface in the courts after today, particularly if the presidential race is too close to call or heads for a recount in states such as Ohio or Florida.
“Each of these problems can lead to post-election litigation and gum up the election works,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.
Voting-rights advocates pointed with particular concern to the tea party- linked True the Vote organization, which has pledged to dispatch thousands of monitors to polling places to guard against potential voter fraud. True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht rejected suggestions that the group would be overly aggressive or issue false challenges.
The Justice Department will have at least 780 observers at key polling places in 23 states to ensure compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act and look into any allegations of voter fraud.
In Florida, where Democrats unsuccessfully tried to extend early voting by an extra day, election officials in most of the state’s biggest jurisdictions were accepting in-person absentee ballots Monday.
Provisional ballots were the latest legal skirmish in the critical battleground state of Ohio, where Secretary of State Jon Husted’s latest decision on how they can be cast was challenged in federal court. Advocates and lawyers for labor unions contend that Husted’s order would lead to some provisional ballots’ being wrongly rejected because the burden of recording the form of ID used on a provisional ballot is being placed on voters, not poll workers as in the past.
A decision was not expected before Election Day, but the judge overseeing the case planned a ruling before Nov. 17, when provisional ballots can begin to be counted in Ohio.