As Voting Challenges Loom, Some Optimism

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Becky Lettenberger/ NPR

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The phones have been ringing nonstop at an Election Protection call center in Washington, D.C.

Tens of thousands of voters have already sought help: Some say their names were not on the rolls when they went to vote early. Others have yet to receive an absentee ballot. Some voters are just confused.

With a huge turnout expected on Election Day, officials are bracing for problems. A hundred million people could go to the polls — and that's not even counting the tens of millions who have already cast early or absentee ballots.

Jon Greenbaum with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is one of thousands of volunteers working with a coalition of voting-rights groups to try to answer questions, and teams of lawyers plan to be in the field on Tuesday to fix problems on the spot. Greenbaum's concerns run the gamut from excessively long lines to machine breakdowns to misinformed poll workers.

"In addition to that, we're concerned about there being intimidation at or around the polls — deceptive practices that tell voters intentionally wrong information about the elections, including that their polling place has moved when it hasn't," he said.

Reports Of Voter Intimidation

Voters in Pittsburgh say they have received calls telling them that Democrats have to wait until Wednesday to cast a ballot. Voters in Colorado and Florida have reported calls saying they can vote by phone when they cannot.

The advocacy group Common Cause has countered with its own calls, including a message to voters from actor Danny Glover. Its call goes: "We heard there are people in your areas that might be trying to confuse you, to keep you from voting on Election Day. If you get a flier saying things like, 'Election Day has changed,' or 'You can't vote if you have a parking ticket,' don't believe it."

Problems Not Expected For The Majority Of Voters

Many voting-rights advocates and election officials say most voters should encounter few problems. Lines will be long, but there will also be many more polling places than there were during early voting. Other potential difficulties have been defused in recent days.

Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, says that most of the efforts to knock people off the rolls will not come to fruition.

"Voters at this point can expect that if they are eligible — are registered — that they'll be able to go to the polls and vote," he said.

There had been predictions that hundreds of thousand of voters might find otherwise — that their names would be mistakenly purged. That is still likely for some people, but several court decisions and settlements have dramatically reduced the potential impact in states such as Ohio, Michigan, Colorado and Florida.

Rosemary Rodriguez, chairwoman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, says she is also encouraged that many election offices seem to have good contingency plans, such as spare voting machines already loaded on trucks.

"They can rush in and replace a machine that breaks," she said. "A number of states have printed emergency ballots, and those are being maintained and they're ready to be voted if for some reasons the lines are too long."

Overall, she says that she expects Election Day to go well. But many voting-rights advocates remain worried. They don't think there are enough paper ballots available for voters, and they fear that if the vote is close, even minor glitches will have huge implications.

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