No more to be done as 130m take to the polls

With more than 130m Americans heading out to vote and some queuing for hours, reports of polling problems in key battleground states as well as the flood effected areas of post-Sandy New York and New Jersey caused some concern for both parties.

No more to be done as 130m take to the polls

“There is just a word — just one word — to describe the situation around New Jersey, and that is catastrophe,” said Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

According to Reuters, New Jersey voters displaced by Superstorm Sandy and emergency responders working on relief and recovery efforts were given until 8pm ET on Friday.

In Virginia, Democrats expressed worries that that long lines at polling places in key counties would discourage voters while over 12,000 voters in Florida received an incorrect phone call from an elections supervisor saying they had an extra day to turn in their absentee ballot.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama’s daughters flew in from Washington to Chicago after school to join their father as he awaited the outcome of the presidential election. The first family had dinner with Michelle Obama’s brother, Craig Robinson, his family, the President’s sister Maya Soetoro-Ng and family.

Earlier, Barack Obama played basketball in a place called Hope after predicting a good night for himself.

As his opponent Mitt Romney spent part of the day on a last minute, and surprise, round of campaigning, including in the key state of Ohio, the president was at home in Chicago, playing basketball, visiting volunteers still working the phones and congratulating the Republican candidate for running a “spirited campaign”.

Final polls showed Mr Obama with a slight lead in Ohio — no Republican in history has taken the White House without winning it.

It was a dead heat in national polls, though the US electoral system means all the focus was on a handful of toss-up states that would decide which candidate will reach the 270 college votes needed to win the race.

At lunchtime, Mr Obama went to the Hope Athletic Centre to play basketball with, among others, his secretary of education Arne Duncan and Scottie Pippen, a Chicago NBA legend.

Mr Romney went back on the campaign trail after he cast his vote in Belmont, Massachusetts yesterday morning. He told reporters at the polling station that he felt “very, very good” about his chances before boarding his private jet for his last few hours of electioneering before polls closed across the nation.

Officially, his quick dash to the neighbouring states of Ohio and Pennsylvania was described as a trip to thank volunteers, but in reality was a last-ditch effort to try and secure votes in crucial districts.

Mr Romney, who praised Mr Obama for his strong campaign, joined his running mate Paul Ryan in Cleveland, a heavily Democrat city in the northern part of Ohio and thought to be crucial to the incumbent’s bid for re-election.

Even more audacious was his subsequent trip to Pittsburgh. Mr Obama campaign staffers described as “fantasy” Republican hopes of winning the state.

But senior Romney campaign adviser Ed Gillespie said of his boss: “He’s going to win tonight, not just win, but win decisively,”

Turnout was reported to be heavy, with people waiting for close to two hours in the battleground areas, including in Florida, another must-win state for former Massachusetts Governor Romney, and in Wisconsin, his running mate Paul Ryan’s home.

Sporadic problems were reported at polling places around the country, including a confrontation in Pennsylvania involving Republican inspectors over access to some polls and a voting machine that lit up for Mitt Romney even when a voter pressed the button for Mr Obama.

One Florida elections office mistakenly told voters in robocalls the election was today.

Although the majority of complaints were simply extremely long queues, the Election Protection coalition of civil rights and voting access groups said they had received some more serious calls among more than 40,000 received on a toll-free voter protection hotline.

In Philadelphia, the Republican Party said 75 legally-credentialed voting inspectors were blocked from polling places in the heavily Democratic city, prompting the GOP to obtain a court order providing them access. Local prosecutors were also looking into the reports.

Pennsylvania department of state spokesman Ron Ruman said the Perry County voter who used the machine that switched the vote from Obama to Romney notified elections officials of the problem. Video of what Ruman called a “momentary glitch” was widely viewed on YouTube.

Pennsylvania was also the scene of what a state Common Cause official called “widespread” confusion over voter ID requirements. The state this year enacted a new photo ID requirement, but it was put on hold for yesterday’s election by a judge amid concern many voters would not be able to comply on time.

Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause in Pennsylvania, said election workers in many places were still demanding IDs. It was unclear how many voters may have been turned away or discouraged.

Also in Philadelphia, a judge ordered a mural of Obama covered up after a Republican election worker snapped a picture of it at a school polling place, according to a statement from the Republican Party.

The battleground state of Ohio was the scene of yet another court battle, this one involving a lawsuit claiming voting software installed by the state could allow manipulation of ballots by non-election board officials. A judge dismissed the lawsuit seeking to stop use of the software.

The Florida robocall glitch occurred in Pinellas County. Officials said the calls intended for Monday were wrongly recycled Tuesday, telling possibly thousands of voters they had until “7pm tomorrow” to vote, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Nancy Whitlock, the spokeswoman for the county’s supervisor of elections, said officials stopped the calls yesterday morning when the problem was discovered and a message went out telling voters to disregard the previous call.

Elsewhere, the Election Protection coalition reported problems with ballot scanners in the Ohio cities of Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo; late-opening polling places in minority neighbourhoods in Galveston, Texas; and some precincts in the Tampa, Fla., area where voters were being redirected to another polling place to cast a provisional ballot.

Meanwhile, voters in several Superstorm-Sandy-ravaged areas in New York and New Jersey expressed relief and even elation at being able to vote at all. Lines were long in Point Pleasant, NJ, where residents from the Jersey Shore communities of Point Pleasant Beach and Mantoloking had to cast their ballots due to damage in their hometowns. Many people still had no power eight days after Sandy pummelled the shore.

“Nothing is more important than voting. What is the connection between voting and this?” said Alex Shamis, a resident of hard-hit Staten Island, gesturing to his mud-filled home.

Any voting problems are being closely monitored after months of legal and political battles over more voter ID restrictions and other laws, mostly fruitless hunts for supposedly ineligible people on voting rolls in many states and sustained claims that black and Hispanic voters are being targeted for intimidation and suppression.

Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said even in states where the restrictive laws have been blocked or delayed, many people still think they are in effect.

“The laws were struck down, but the confusion remains,” Waldman said.

Many of these issues could resurface in the courts, particularly if the race between Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, is too close to call or heads for a recount in states such as Ohio or Florida. The justice department had at least 780 observers at key polling places in 23 states to ensure compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, looking into any allegations of voter fraud.

Provisional ballots were the latest legal skirmish in the critical battleground state of Ohio, where Secretary of State Jon Husted’s decision on how they can be cast was challenged in federal court. Advocates and lawyers for labour unions contended that Husted’s order would lead to some provisional ballots being rejected improperly, as the burden of recording the form of ID was being placed on voters, not poll workers as in the past. A provisional vote allows a person to have his or her say, but the ballot is subject to verification of eligibility. A court hearing was set for today on the issue. Provisional ballots cannot be counted in Ohio before Nov 17.

* Read more:

The divided states of America

Lawyers on the case to ensure every vote counts

Campaign for 2016 is already under way

Early-voting village returns a five-all draw

Voters queue amid rubble in storm aftermath

No more to be done as 130m take to the polls

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