Voting complaints rooted mostly in misunderstanding, misinformation

abaird@newsobserver.comNovember 6, 2012 

— Election Day passed in North Carolina without immediate evidence of anticipated voter fraud, voter intimidation, or widespread machine-caused errors – all talking points throughout the campaign. Misinformation and misunderstandings were primarily responsible for the complaints that were reported.

“You never make it through an election without anything, but it hasn’t been too bad yet,” said Gary Bartlett, state elections director, shortly before polls closed Tuesday.

Problems reported around North Carolina were mostly predictable for a high-interest election with a presidential race at the top of the ticket: lines occasionally took more than hour to navigate; ballots occasionally jammed voting machines; and confusion, caused by misinformation and misunderstandings over voter ID laws, led to countless complaints to the state elections board and hotlines operated by advocacy groups.

Voter ID biggest issue

Bartlett said the first two problems were solved without great drama, but the voter ID issue caused more of a headache.

More than 50 complaints were made to a voter hotline by people wrongly asked to show ID in order to vote, according to Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina. Many were required to show ID because they did not when they registered to vote.

“The debate over voter ID seems to have set all of this confusion up,” said Hall. “Having been through several election cycles, there’s an emotion, an energy, just passion on both sides that’s different.”

Misinformation aside, in Sampson County, there was an explosion of complaints when elections officials there suspected a man had cast multiple ballots. It turned out the problem was confusion caused by a poll worker mixed up two people who share a last name.

Donna Mashburn, Sampson County elections director, said a member of the county elections board later confirmed the problem was fixed and the votes were properly counted.

Tardy observers cause flap

Another flap surrounded the decisions of several county boards to block GOP poll observers because of missed deadlines to hand over information on the people being sent by the party to keep an eye on precincts.

Bartlett intervened and urged both Johnston and Lenoir counties to let them in; GOP observers were allowed in Johnston before noon, but it was well into the afternoon before Lenoir let poll observers in.

“In that situation, it’s just better to let people in to avoid bitterness,” Bartlett said. “It’s been a tough enough election already.”

Baird: 919-826-4696

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