In Some States, Election Season Could Linger Long After Tuesday
By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
Election Day’s passage will bring an end to the din of stump speech sound bites and robocalls, but voters in some states may need to wait much longer to receive the ultimate campaign season closure: the final vote tally.
That’s largely because of two storms – a politically-motivated legal storm, and an actual one named Sandy. Those forces could prompt recounts in close races, followed by lengthy court proceedings.
Here’s a look at several states whose elections may remain undecided after Tuesday night (November 6):
If races are tight in Florida, post-election litigation is a clear possibility amid ongoing disputes over voting hours. Over the weekend, state Democrats filed last minute lawsuits to try to keep polls open longer, as some voters in certain counties had hours-long waits in lines snaking out the door, as the New York Times reported.
In this highly-coveted swing state, a fight has already begun over the counting of provisional ballots — special ballots, used when voters lack proper identification or do not have names on registration lists, or cast their votes in the wrong precinct. After the ballots are cast, elections officials set them aside for further verification.
Last week, Secretary of State Jon Husted ordered Ohio counties to reject any provisional ballots cast with an incomplete identification section. Husted, a Republican, says it is a voter’s responsibility to fill out the section. Democrats and voting rights groups, meanwhile, contend it’s a poll worker’s job to make sure it's complete.
On Wednesday, a federal judge will hear arguments in the dispute.
In 2008, Ohioans cast 200,000 provisional ballots, of which 40,000 went uncounted, the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes. In some razor-close contests — particularly the race for presidency — those votes could prove to be the difference.
Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law was suspended ahead of Election Day, but that hasn’t put an end to the partisan dispute over the issue.
Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union accuse the state of misleading would-be voters – and potentially suppressing turnout — through a series of advertisements encouraging them to show photo IDs at the polls. Some ads depict a state ID card and large print reading “Show It,” with much smaller print explaining that an ID won’t be required to vote.
Last week, a Commonwealth Court judge ruled the state was not at fault, saying challengers brought “no credible proof” the ads would disenfranchise voters. But that confusion, coupled by close races in Pennsylvania, could spark further litigation after the election.
New Jersey, New York
Hurricane Sandy’s devastation has resulted in huge challenges for elections officials in New York and New Jersey, where thousands of people remain without electricity. To accommodate voters, the states have enacted a slew of last-minute changes to rules and procedures.
But some of those changes could complicate issues further, particularly in New Jersey, which is allowing voters to cast ballots over fax and email. That decision, as Stateline has reported, has prompted concerns about computer security, along with questions about whether state elections officials have the resources to implement the new system with such a short time to prepare. Under New Jersey’s plan, voters must cast their ballots by Election Day, but those ballots could be verified as late as November 19.
Such complications could spur litigation in the event of any close races.
New York officials have moved 60 polling sites and are allowing displaced voters to cast their ballot in any county. But even with those accommodations, turnout is likely to be low. State law allows counties to request an extra day of voting if turnout is below 25 percent “as a direct consequence” of a disaster such as Sandy.
If races are close in Virginia, the state too could see post-election litigation. That’s largely because provisional ballots are playing a greater role there than in the past. The state is rolling out a new photo ID requirement for provisional ballots. Voters who arrive at the polls Tuesday without proper identification will be given provisional ballots that must be returned by Friday with the required ID.
“Because Virginia is populated enough that its electoral votes matter, if there is a problem, Virginia could be litigated tremendously,” Michael Dimino, a law professor at Widener University, told Bloomberg News.
Washington is not a swing state in the presidential election, but voters there are weighing in on a governor’s race and closely-watched questions on same-sex marriage and marijuana. But the wait for those results could be several days because of a huge voter turnout and the slower process of the state’s all mail-in ballot system, as The Seattle Times reports.
More than 1.5 million ballots have been returned, and officials are expecting 1.5 million more, according to the Times, a turnout that could eclipse 80 percent of registered voters. Officials only expect to tabulate 60 percent of votes through Election Night and 90 percent of votes through the end of the week.