Voters nationwide who confront problems at the polling station Tuesday will have a new way to get help and take part in what many analysts and activists have warned will be a close-fought and tricky election.
A new online resource, to be activated before the polls open Tuesday, will enable members of the electorate to alert voter protection organizations if they encounter difficulties in registering their choices in congressional, state, and local races and on scores of local ballot initiatives on issues ranging from abortion to the minimum wage.
The nonpartisan initiative, VoterStory.org, comes amid the increasing use of electronic voting machines and, with it, a surge in concerns and reports of problems from the past two elections, said Rob Stuart, president of advocacy support services provider EvolveStrategies.
''We want to make sure that any voter who experiences a problem at the polls has a way to tell their story and get help,'' said Stuart, whose organization developed VoterStory with funding from private charities the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Ford Foundation, and Open Society Institute.
Voters will be able to access VoterStory.org at the Web site www.voterstory.org and through 30-plus other sites that have agreed to offer voters the service, Stuart told OneWorld. Others hosting the service range from advocacy group People for the American Way to legal aid provider Voteraction.org and Save the Children Federation affiliate youthnoise.com, he said.
The open source utility can be placed on any Web site but feeds information entered by voters into a central database that alerts voter rights organizations each time a new incident is reported in their district.
To use the free service, voters will have to fill in an online form with the details of their incident. The voter then would click ''submit,'' causing the service to send an e-mail to a registered voter-protection organization for follow-up. At the same time, an e-mail confirmation should be sent to the voter saying that one of these organizations might contact her or him.
Separately, civil rights advocates have launched a tool to help voters navigate new identification and other requirements.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said they were distributing palm cards to educate voters in five states--Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Missouri--about new voting procedures that have spawned confusion over what identification documents voters will need to show poll workers before they are allowed to vote.
The cards, produced in English and Spanish, also can be accessed via the Internet at the Leadership Conference's online action center, civilrights.org, which features a ''voter empowerment 2006'' page.
Though the VoterStory service was prompted by worries about electronic voting, it also was intended to provide new aid to voters confronted with old problems. Stuart anticipated complaints would include problems with malfunctioning mechanical voting machines, unduly long queues, registration difficulties, and voter intimidation.
Not all voters have access to the Internet, so VoterStory could end up favoring relatively well-off and wired precincts. Even so, backers of the service said it was aimed at giving voters new options and was not meant to replace conventional means of seeking redress.
''We are supporting nonpartisan voter protection hotlines and other election-related groups to help make sure voters get the help they need if they have a problem at the polls,'' said Geri Mannion, chair of the Strengthening U.S. Democracy program at the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
''The VoterStory.org Web Widget complements those efforts by making sure more voter complaints are recorded online and can be addressed on Election Day and in the future,'' she added.
Traditionally, voters needing help to exercise their franchise have been able to turn to the American Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters, church and community groups, official election monitors, and others. Political parties also field election observers to help voters--especially those thought to be sympathetic to the party.
Concern about voting problems has swelled in the wake of bitterly contested and fraud-tainted presidential races in 2000 and 2004, technologically snarled primaries last September, and a combination of high stakes, intense jockeying, and new voting machines and rules at play in Tuesday's balloting.
Wooing voters in the midterm election--so called because it falls halfway through the president's four-year term--are candidates for all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 33 of the Senate's 100 berths, and 36 of the country's 50 governorships.
At stake is control of the legislative branch where Republicans have held both chambers since 1994, a brief Democratic interval in the Senate notwithstanding. In the House, Republicans occupy 231 seats and Democrats, 201. An independent holds one seat and two slots lie vacant. In the Senate, Republicans hold 55 seats with 44 in Democratic hands and one occupied by an independent.
Copyright © 2006 OneWorld.net.