Voter group sees spike in complaints about incorrect ballots

kferral@newsobserver.com May 8, 2012 

— The North Carolina Election Protection hotline, part of a nationwide voter education coalition coordinated by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, has fielded numerous calls from voters who were given a ballot without Amendment One at their polling sites, said Elizabeth Haddix, staff attorney with the UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Civil Rights, which sponsored the hotline.

A Triangle voter advocacy group says it has received numerous complaints from people who were given the wrong ballot while trying to vote Tuesday.

The North Carolina Election Protection hotline, part of a nationwide voter education coalition coordinated by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, fielded calls from voters all day who were given a ballot without Amendment One at their polling sites, said Elizabeth Haddix, staff attorney with the UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Civil Rights, which sponsored the hotline Tuesday.

"We've certainly gotten a heavy volume of calls, many more than we expected in a primary," she said.

Amendment One is the statewide referendum on a measure to amend the state constitution to declare marriage between one man and one woman the only legally valid domestic union in the state.

Haddix did not have an estimate of the number of calls the group has received, but said calls have come in from at least eight counties statewide, including Orange, Mecklenburg and Chatham counties, she said.

There were several different kinds of ballots for poll workers to give to voters Tuesday, depending on voters’ age and party affiliation.

Some ballots did not include Amendment One because they were meant for 17-year-old voters. Residents who would turn 18 before the general election were allowed to vote in some primaries, but were not permitted to vote on Amendment One.

Election Protection has no way of knowing how or why voters were given the wrong ballots, Haddix said. She said the hotline has gotten calls from people who asked for a Democratic ballot and were given a ballot without Amendment One included on it, and also from Libertarians who were given ballots with no box for the Amendment.

“There are a lot of different ballots out there, so it’s reasonable to assume that some of this error is due to confusion by the poll workers,” she said.

Some counties were given electronic scanners by the state to be used by poll workers. If those scanners are being used and vsolunteers were trained properly, there shouldn’t be much confusion, said Tracy Reams, director of the Board of Elections in Orange County.

Poll workers use the scanner to scan a barcode on the ballot, then scan the voter’s Authorization to Vote form, she said. If the two don’t match the scanner should beep, she said.

“There would be no excuse for any of our precinct workers to give out incorrect ballots if they're using that scanner like they were trained to do,” she said.

There are 24 ballot styles in Orange County, she said. The county did receive one complaint from someone about beinggiven the wrong ballot, but the county is still investigating, she said.

At least three people in Chatham County were given the wrong ballot while trying to vote Tuesday.

Poll workers in Chatham County accidentally handed out ballots to at least three voters without Amendment One on them, said Dawn Stumpf, director of elections for Chatham County.

One woman filed a formal complaint by email with Chatham County's Board of Elections, she said. The wrong ballots were given out just as polls opened at 6:30 a.m. at the Hickory Mountain precinct at Pleasantville United Methodist Church, she said.

One woman who was given a wrong ballot realized it before she voted and asked for the right ballot. Two voters didn't realize it until after they submitted their ballot, but did not want to file a complaint, Stumpf said.

Hickory Mountain has an electronic scanner, but it was down when the polls opened, which made it confusing for volunteers, she said.

"I guess there was a lot of confusion. There's a lot of ballot styles ... it's very confusing for poll workers to have so many ballot styles," she said.

The problem with the scanner at the Hickory Mountain precinct was later fixed and the county has not received any more complaints, she said.

Election Protection N.C. has also gotten calls from voters complaining about political messages posted at church polling sites, Haddix said. Voters said some churches posted political messages on marquees which stated a clear position on Amendment One but would not allow opposing messages to be posted, she said.

The Election Protection hotline has been in North Carolina, based in Chapel Hill, since the 2004 election. The group makes a record of all of its calls and complaints and reports significant cases to individual county election boards and then the state Board of Election, she said.

Ferral: 919-932-8746

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