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Election Protection

Election Day approaches, and with it a test of our election system's integrity. Who will be allowed to vote; who will be barred? Who will get paper ballots; who will use electronic voting machines? Will polls be open long enough to accommodate what is expected to be a historic turnout?

Veteran activist Harvey Wasserman has co-written four books on elections and voter rights. He says John Kerry won Ohio in 2004. Why look back? Wasserman is concerned about the attempt by the Ohio Republican Party, with help from the Bush White House, to challenge the registration of new Ohio voters:

"The GOP is trying to disenfranchise these 200,000 people by challenging their right to vote, asking the secretary of state here, Jennifer Brunner, to let the counties investigate and knock off the voter rolls, if they choose to, people who have minor discrepancies in their Social Security numbers or driver's license numbers. And the secretary of state has rightfully showed that many of these mistakes come from typographical errors when the numbers are entered in at the agencies."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only the U.S. Department of Justice can purge these new registrants from the voter rolls. Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner, of Ohio, and President Bush urged U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to take action, potentially purging these 200,000 people. Advocates feared the homeless in Ohio would be disenfranchised because they lack a traditional address or identification (Wasserman notes that many of them may be veterans). U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus ruled that Ohio counties must allow voters who list their addresses as park benches or other non-building locations.

Wasserman's two main concerns about the integrity of the election are mass disenfranchisement through computerized purging and the failures of electronic voting machines, which can skew vote tallies and cause impossibly long lines at polling places (as can the provision of too few voting machines, whether they work well or not). These issues are both coming to a head in Colorado. There, Secretary of State Mike Coffman, a Republican who is also running for Congress, has been sued by Common Cause, Mi Familia Vota and the Service Employees International Union for purging 30,000 voters within a 90-day window before an election. Six thousand seven hundred new registrants were purged for failing to check a box on the voter-registration form. Colorado has seen enthusiastic participation in early voting (some estimates nationally put the number of early voters at an astounding 10 million, with days to go), and also has seen many voters opt for mail-in ballots. However, more than 11,000 voters in Denver did not receive their mail-in ballots because of a mistake made by Sequoia Voting Systems, the company that was supposed to have delivered 21,000 ballots to a Denver mail-processing facility on Oct. 16. Election officials promise the ballots will be delivered.

Brad Friedman of BradBlog.com told me: "Sequoia is one of the big-four voting-machine companies. Of course, they have failed in state after state." Friedman also reports on "vote flipping," a problem with electronic, touch-screen voting machines. "It's West Virginia, it's Tennessee, it's Texas, Missouri, Nevada ... people go in and vote for a Democratic straight-party ticket or for Barack Obama, and the vote flips to a Republican or some other candidate." The companies claim the machines can be calibrated to work properly. Friedman disagrees: "These machines need to be pulled out, because even when they work, the problem is that there is absolutely no way to ever verify that any vote ever cast on a touch-screen machine like this has been recorded as per the voter's intent."

In response to video of Georgia early voters waiting eight hours, Friedman blogged: "Thank you to those voters who were willing to hang in there! Shame on you to those officials who set up this system that can't even accommodate the limited numbers of early voters! God save us all next Tuesday. Stay strong and brave people!"

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has sued Virginia's Democratic governor, Tim Kaine, on the grounds that he is unprepared to deal with a massive onslaught of voters there Nov. 4. Virginia is not among the 31 states with early voting.

Thousands of lawyers and citizen-activists will be monitoring the polling places on Election Day. People are posting videos of election problems at videothevote.org. When you go to cast your vote, take a friend or neighbor, take your ID and take a camera as well. Election protection is everyone's job.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

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