Voting Problems 2018

From purges to voter intimidation to machine snafus, voting issues have proliferated this cycle. Here, a Brennan Center roundup.

November 5, 2018
As Election Day approaches, obstacles continue to make it difficult for eligible voters to cast a ballot. This year, voters in 24 states will have to navigate recently adopted laws that restrict voting access; in nine of those states, it will be harder to vote than it was in 2016. In addition to tracking these laws (and litigation and legislation affecting voting access), the Brennan Center has been tracking the full array of efforts nationwide to restrict access to voting. These efforts have been more widespread and intense than in any other election in recent memory. Below is a non-exhaustive list of recent efforts to restrict voting rights over the past three months, including actual and possible incidents of voter suppression. For a full summary of the new legal restrictions voters face this year, look here.
 
 

Voter Purges 

In the lead-up to this election, there has been a dramatic spike in voter purges, the often-flawed practice of cleaning up the voter rolls by deleting names of voters who may have moved or otherwise become ineligible. Done badly, purges can disenfranchise large numbers of eligible citizens. A Brennan Center report issued this summer found a 33 percent increase in purges nationwide over the past decade. In a number of states, purge practices were especially troubling:
  • Increased purge rates in states previously covered by the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act: Since 2012, states that had previously been subject to extra scrutiny under the federal Voting Rights Act because of a history of voting discrimination had much higher purge rates than other states; had they purged at the same rate as the rest of the country, 2 million fewer voters would have been purged between 2012 and 2016.
  • Especially high purge rates in Southern States: Between 2016 and 2018, the Brennan Center found Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida removed an unusually high number of names from their voter rolls. Both Georgia and North Carolina removed over 10 percent of registrations from their voter lists, and Florida removed more than 7 percent. Since 2015, Alabama election officials purged 658,000 voters, according to the state’s chief election official; this number is dramatic given that the state had only 3.3 million registered voters in 2016.
  • Indiana’s problematic purge law: After the 2016 election, Indiana passed a law that would require election officials to purge voters using the notoriously error-prone Crosscheck program developed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, without offering voters the notice and waiting period required by federal law. One study found Crosscheck would block 300 legal votes for every double vote prevented. The Brennan Center, on behalf of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, challenged this practice in a lawsuit filed last year. Although not yet used, the law was in effect up through this summer, when the court blocked it. An appeal is currently pending. 
  • Other states have a history of problematic Crosscheck rules: In the past, Maine and Alabama election officials had rules that allowed using Crosscheck to immediately purge voters without providing notice or a waiting period. The Brennan Center and partners sent letters to both states, and both said that they do not have plans to use the database at this time. 
  • Ohio law allows voter purges: Ohio is enforcing a law that requires election officials to begin a purge process for voters who missed one election. The Supreme Court upheld the law against a legal challenge earlier this year. After plaintiffs filed an appeal on a narrower issue in the case, a court ordered Ohio election officials to count 2018 ballots from some of the voters who had been purged. 
  • New Yorkers continue to experience impact of 2016 purge: During the September primary, some registered voters reported that they were not found on the voter rolls, had registrations wrongly transferred to new election districts, or were not given the right primary ballots for their party affiliation. This follows the notorious Brooklyn purge of the 2016 presidential election, during which 200,000 voters were improperly purged from the voter rolls. 
  • West Virginia voter list maintenance may have removed eligible voters: Last month, Secretary of State Mac Warner reported election officials had removed more than 100,000 registrations from the voter rolls in the last two years. Some individuals reported issues confirming their registration status. After contacting counties throughout the state, we discovered election officials may have inconsistent methods of restoring the registrations of voters wrongly removed. It is unclear how this large removal will impact voters on Election Day. 

Georgia

Voters in the state have continuously been subject to laws, policies, and legal action aimed at suppressing an individual’s ability to cast a ballot. Secretary of State Brian Kemp has come under extensive criticism for his controversial actions contributing to voter suppression leading up to the 2018 election while running for governor. Here is a summary of recent suppressive actions in Georgia: 

  • “Exact match” problem: Georgia is enforcing an unusual policy of holding up registrations of voters if their application information does not exactly match the information on other government records. Under this flawed policy, about 53,000 registrations are still “pending.” Seventy percent of those applications being held are from African Americans. While those applicants can vote, they will experience additional obstacles. As a result of a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups, those in “pending” status because the state was unable to verify their citizenship through this match process will be able to vote a regular ballot on Election Day by providing proof of citizenship at the polls.
  • Threat to polling locations: Earlier this year, a consultant recommended Randolph County, a majority black, rural county in South Georgia, close seven of the nine voting locations due to ADA compliance issues. In response, several organizations filed a lawsuit against the state and Secretary of State Brian Kemp. After significant public outcry, election officials rejected the proposal and fired the consultant. 
  • Absentee ballot rejections in Gwinnett County: Election officials rejected an unusually high number of absentee ballots in Gwinnett County, 465 of which were for reasons including “mismatched” signatures, missing addresses, and incorrect birth years. In Georgia, the law requires county election officials to reject absentee ballots that have signatures that do not match the signature on file. As a result of a current lawsuit, county officials must now treat absentee ballots with mismatched signatures as provisional ballots and contact voters whose ballots have been flagged.  
  • Preventing access to the polls: In Jefferson County, a senior centerdirector, at the request of county clerks, ordered about 40 African American senior citizens off a bus that was transporting them to the polls during the early voting period. Despite being planned by a nonpartisan organization, county clerks claimed the event was “political activity,” which is not allowed during a county-sponsored event (the senior center is operated by Jefferson County). Those voters were unable to vote that day.
  • State election official exposes partisanship: Secretary of State Brian Kemp stated at a public event that his gubernatorial opponent’s voter registration effort “continues to concern us, especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote.” This is an example of the impact Kemp believes widespread turnout will have on his campaign and provides evidence for how his perspective may influence his actions as secretary of state during the general election.
  • Missing vote-by-mail applications: Party officials reported 4,700 missing vote-by-mail applications in Dekalb County. Some officials involved stated that county officials would explain the situation to the thousands of voters, although this course of action has not been confirmed by the county elections board. 
  • Publicized security breach: On November 3, reports of a failed cyberattack on the registration system in Georgia surfaced. Rather than try to fix the situation, Secretary Kemp announced he would launch an investigation into the Democratic Party of Georgia and contacted the FBI. The political party has strongly denied these allegations, and Kemp provided no evidence to substantiate his claim. 

North Carolina 

Voters in North Carolina continue to experience challenges this election season. Reports of misleading information, voter intimidation, controversial policies, and legal action have all made it more difficult to cast a ballot that counts.

  • Restrictive and misleading constitutional amendments: The state Legislature placed six constitutional amendments on the November ballot, including an amendment that would require voters to present photo ID at the polls and one that would give the state General Assembly the ability to appoint members of the election board. In writing these amendments, GOP lawmakers took over this responsibility from other state officials, some say with the intent to mislead voters.
  • Decrease in early voting sites: A North Carolina law created uniform early voting hours on weekdays. This new policy is expected to reduce the number of early voting sites by 20 percent when compared to the number open in 2014. For example, two of the five early voting sites in Gaston County have been closed, and Iredell County has cut half of its early voting sites. 
  • Election officials attempted to remove voters: Prior to this election season, county officials were able to process challenges made by voters in large batches that caused purge-like results. A judge permanently blocked this provision, and now election officials must give challenged voters a notice and waiting period, and must complete removals at least 90 days before federal elections. 
  • Release of misleading information: Lt. Governor Dan Forest released a video funded by the NC Republic Council of State Committee titled Voter Fraud 101 that gives instructions on how to commit voter fraud. This advertisement, originally released on Facebook, has since been determined to have targeted “North Carolinians interested in Donald Trump.” Forest and others are clearly continuing to promote the myth of widespread voter fraud. 
  • Poll worker incident in Franklin County: A poll worker was removed from an early voting site for allegedly intimidating black voters. This individual repeatedly asked several black voters to spell their names. 
  • Voter intimidation results in arrest: In Mecklenburg County, three white individuals aggressively confronted a black polling place volunteer at a Steele Creek poll and made racial slurs toward him, as well as exposed a BB gun in a holster. The individual who exposed the BB gun is currently in custody and was charged with ethnic intimidation. In response, the local police department plans to devote more resources to monitoring polling places in Charlotte. 
  • Federal subpoenas burden election officials: In August, counties in North Carolina were served with subpoenas issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office requesting voter records and ballots be turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement by September 25. The state officials determined that the response would be over 20 million pages and place a significant burden on county election officials in the months leading up to the election. On September 6, federal authorities decided to give counties until January to respond to this records request. 

Students

Election officials in some states have made it difficult for a young voter to cast a ballot. Particularly, student voters in New Hampshire, Texas, Florida, and Michigan have been subject to suppressive policies leading up to the general election. 

  • Change to residency requirements impact voter registration: New Hampshire enacted a law last year that makes it more onerous for voters to establish that they are “domiciled” in the state for purposes of registering to vote. A judge briefly blocked the state from implementing this law prior to the upcoming election. But the state Supreme Court ordered the law to stay in effect until after the November 6 election.
  • Registration confusion and few early voting sites: At Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university in Texas, students were instructed to use one of two university building addresses for their registration applications in the absence of individual mailboxes. In Octoberreports emerged that some students would have to fill out change-of-address forms on Election Day. After public opposition, state officials announced students would not need to fill out the form on Election Day. Despite this victory, state officials continue to make it difficult for Texas students to vote. County election officials failed to provide an early voting location on campus or in Prairie View City for part of the early voting period. As a result, civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit against Waller County and claim this lack of resources disenfranchises African American voters. County commissioners decided to extend early voting hours and dates shortly after the lawsuit was filed. 
  • Limited early voting site operation prevents students from voting: In San Marcos, Texas State University’s temporary early voting site was only open for three days, as opposed to the two weeks before Election Day that most polling places in the state are open. Long lines prevented some from casting a ballot, and with the only other polling site miles away, students decided to contact county stakeholders and request the polling location be reopened. On October 26, reports surfaced that a local GOP president sent an email to groups urging them to contact county commissioners and request they not extendvoting times for students at this location because extensions would “favor the Democrats.” 
  • Early voting sites not allowed on campus in Florida: Prior to this year, Secretary of State Ken Detzner stated local election officials could not hold early voting on public college campuses. In July 2018, however, a federal judge in Florida blocked the state’s “blanket ban” and ordered the state to allow local officials to site early voting locations on campuses. 
  • First-time voter election policies impact Michigan voters: Students at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University filed a lawsuit claiming a 20-year-old state voting law that requires some first-time voters to cast a ballot in person and mandates a voter’s registration address match the one on their driver’s license, violates the First and 26thAmendment. The case is currently pending. 

Online Vote Suppression 

This election cycle has seen an increase in the use of online social media platforms to suppress the vote. In recent weeks, we have heard reports of both foreign and domestic entities involved in this form of voter suppression. 

  • Russian organization used social media to incite conflict: In Virginia, Elena Khusyaynova, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States by interfering in the 2018 election through “Project Lakhta,” which published misinformation online on political issues and created fake social media profiles on multiple social media platforms. The accounts incited conflict on several political issues, and at times promoted opposing viewpoints. These social media accounts reached over one million people. Yevgeniy Prigozhin, associate of President Vladimir Putin, funded Khusyaynova. The U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia and the Justice Department are prosecuting the case. 
  • Fake Tweets spread false information about voting sites: Twitter suspended 1,500 accounts associated with a right-wing internet trolling campaign. The accounts posed as liberal activists and spread false information about the midterms, such as tweeting the incorrect date of the upcoming election: “Get out and vote Nov 7th! #BlueTsunami2018.…” 
  • Facebook political ads are spreading misinformation: According to this news outlet, a partisan organization has placed political ads on Facebook with misleading information on candidates. The organization behind the ads has a purposefully nonpartisan sounding name. 

Misleading Information

Another form of voter suppression includes the communication of false information to voters. Registered voters in Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey, and Texas have been subjected to information that may prevent them from casting a ballot on Election Day. 

  • Incorrect polling address information sent to voters in Pennsylvania: Following the change of 33 polling places in Allegheny County, the county election officials sent letters to voters with polling location address errors. The officials have since sent corrected letters.  
  • Mailer includes inaccurate information regarding voter ID in Illinois: Kendall County Clerk Debbie Gillette sent out a mailer to voters that indicated they would have to “present identification to the election judge” at the polls. In response, the ACLU of Illinois sent a letter to the county clerk indicating the need to correct the misleading voter ID instructions, and county officials removed the misleading information from the county’s website. Voters do not have to present ID to cast a ballot in November. 
  • In New Jersey, misleading mail-in ballot information sent to voters: County clerks sent letters to voters with inaccurate information regarding mail-in ballot protocol. The governor later corrected the information and the Department of State sent a memo to officials to clarify the law. 
  • Voters sent false ballot information in Missouri: Ten thousand voters received incorrect absentee ballot due date information from the Missouri Republican Party. The postcards claim absentee ballots were due one week before the true deadline. Voters who received these mailers have been directed to the Secretary of State’s website and webpage by the RNC.

—   In addition, a state court in Missouri ordered the state to stop disseminating misleading information suggesting that voters without photo ID would not be able to vote.

—   Similarly, state courts in Iowa prohibited the state from advertising that voters would need certain ID to vote in this year’s election.

  • Montana voters received incorrect absentee ballot information: A political party sent mailers to voters that contained incorrect absentee ballot return date information. Party members later admitted the mistake and are contacting voters by phone and mail to clarify.
  •  In New York, a candidate sent a mailer with inaccurate information: According to this news source, the mailer contained the wrong absentee ballot deadline. The campaign later admitted the mistake and sent mailers with the correct information. 
  • Ohio voters received mailers with false information: A political party sent voters mailers that incorrectly stated a voter’s ability to return a completed absentee ballot at the polls on Election Day. A party representative stated they will encourage voters to return completed absentee ballots ahead of the election because voters will have to cast a provisional ballot if they bring a completed absentee ballot to the polls. 

Language Access

Voters should have access to voting materials and translators in their preferred language to ensure they are able to cast a ballot. However, counties in Texas and Florida did make adequate materials accessible to, in this case, Spanish speakers in the months leading up to the 2018 election.  

  • Inadequate online Spanish translations in Texas: After determining 36 county websites lacked sufficient Spanish language resources, the ACLU sent notice letters to county officials. Many counties responded positively and are working toward making their websites more accessible to Spanish speakers. 
  • Lack of Spanish language materials in Florida: In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, thousands of Puerto Ricans who moved to Florida may not have been able to exercise their right to vote without Spanish-language voting materials. To ensure these potential voters had all necessary resources, voting rights groups filed a lawsuit against state officials in order to compel the state to provide Spanish-language materials. A court ruled the counties must print and provide the Spanish-language voting materials in time for the November election. The case is ongoing on other claims. 

Registration and Identification Issues 

In several states, state and election officials have implemented restrictive registration and identification policies or did not approve applications. These policies and actions effectively disenfranchise voters and may prevent thousands from casting a ballot this November. 

  • Voter ID law impacts Native Americans in North Dakota: In 2017, North Dakota enacted a new voter ID law. Among other things, the law requires voters to present an ID that includes a residential street address to vote. This law would disproportionately impact Native American communities within the state because many members of these communities do not have street addresses. The Native American Rights Fund filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law, and a federal district court blocked the residential street address requirement. A Court of Appeals panel halted the district court’s order, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that ruling. In a final effort to relieve voters from this requirement, the Spirit Lake Tribe filed a lawsuit in district court, seeking to block the application of the residential street address requirement to Native Americans living on reservations, but a judge denied the request. It is estimated that 5,000 Native American voters will need to obtain qualifying ID before Election Day. 
  • Kris Kobach enforced law that disenfranchised thousands of voters: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s enforcement of a proof-of-citizenship law denied more than 35,000 potential voters from registering and casting a ballot in the lead up to the 2016 election. The law was struck down this past June after a judge found the law violated the National Voter Registration Act and the U.S. Constitution. 
  • State officials reject online registrations in Texas: Days before the registration deadline, officials rejected 2,400 online registrations submitted by Vote.org due to online signature issues, according to Vote.org. The organization quickly changed their online registration process. Although state officials have determined these registrations invalid, county officials in Travis decided to accept about 800 registration applications from the organization. 
  • State official in Arizona failed to contact voters to confirm address: Civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit after learning Secretary of State Michele Reagan failed to update addresses of over 500,000 registrations. U.S. District Judge James Teilborg rejected a request to send address update mailers to voters. 
  • Voter ID law challenged in Missouri: Priorities USA filed a lawsuit in June 2018 against the state that challenged a voter ID law. The judge struck down part of the law that required voters without ID to sign a confusing affidavit and prohibited state officials from disseminating misleading identification information about the ID law. 
  • In Arkansas, voter ID law in effect during the 2018 election: In 2017, Arkansas passed a new voter ID law. A voter filed a lawsuit claiming the law violated the state constitution, but the state Supreme Court allowed the law to go into place. Voters will have to comply with the identification requirement during the general election.  
  • High voter registration form rejection rate in Tennessee: This October, the Tennessee Black Voter Project filed a lawsuit after 55 percent of registration applications from the organization’s voter drive were identified as invalid. The organization believed the Shelby County Election Commission identified applications as incomplete for a variety of fairly minor reasons. An initial court ruling required county election officials give voters the opportunity to update any deficiencies in their application on Election Day. Following an appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ordered voters whose applications were rejected must vote a provisional ballot and will not get the opportunity to update any deficiencies in their application on Election Day. 
  • Computer glitch in Maryland impacted thousands of voters: The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration failed to send changes voters made in their address and party affiliation to the state elections board due to a computer error. As a result, an estimated 80,000 voters were impacted by the computer glitch and had to cast provisional ballots in the June primary election. In response, state officials sent emails to a majority of those affected to ensure their registration was up-to-date.

Voter Challenges/Intimidation

Another form of voter suppression are voter challenges, which occur when an individual challenges another’s registration status. In addition to this suppressive tactic, voters are at times subject to outright intimidation that can prevent them from safely casting their vote. 

  • Reports of intimidating flyers in Wisconsin: Individuals in Milwaukee reported receiving flyers that stated Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be at polling locations. ICE proved these flyers contained false information: “ICE does not patrol or conduct enforcement at polling locations. Any flyers or advertisements claiming otherwise are false.”
  • Challenges to registrations in Texas result in suspensions: County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett prematurely placed 1,735 voters on a suspension list as a result of a challenge of 4,000 registrations in July. According to this statement, the Republican Party ballot security committee chairman “involved using Republicans he appoints to the Ballot Board to review provisional ballots resulting from suspended voting statuses.” HarrisBennett claimed that the premature suspensions resulted from a computer glitch and that the problem has been fixed.
  • Extreme levels of voter intimidation in Texas: In Dallas County, voters have reported incidents of voter intimidation. At three polling sites, voters have been subjected to electioneering, harassment, and intimidation from individuals outside the polls. One election official stated this level of voter intimidation is rather extreme: “I’ve been here for 30 years, and this harassment that’s going on, I haven’t ever seen the likes of this.”
  • Voter challenges leave some ‘fearful’ in Colorado: Earlier this year, voters subjected to challenges reported intense investigation efforts that left many in the community fearful. Although Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert has declared four individuals’ registrations valid, she has asked the U.S. Attorney’s office to investigate. 
  • Candidate accused of voter intimidation in Hawaii: Voters in House District 30 filed a lawsuit in Hawaii Supreme Court against State Rep. Romy Cachola, who they claimed engaged in voter fraud, coercion, and intimidation during the primary election. On August 31, the Hawaii Supreme Court dismissed the case. 

Polling Places

For in-person voting, it is essential that registered voters be able to access polling locations. However, poll closures and natural disasters at times make it difficult for voters to cast a ballot on Election Day. 

Single polling place moved for a city in Kansas: In Dodge City, part of Ford County, Kansas, election officials have moved the one polling site in a city of 27,000 residents, a majority of whom are Hispanic, to outside the city limits and one mile away from the nearest bus stop. Civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit against the county in order to open another polling site in the city. This follows months of contact and letters between civil rights organizations and county officials. Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox forwarded one such message to Bryan Caskey, the Kansas Director of Elections, with a dismissive message, “This is what I got in the mail from ACLU. LOL.” This lawsuit is currently pending. However, a monitor from the U.S. Attorney’s office will observe the election. Recent reports from newly registered voters indicate county officials are sending official certificates that contain the incorrect polling address. 

(Image: Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty)