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What Should Voters Expect At The Polls?

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What Should Voters Expect At The Polls?

Election 2008: Voting Problems

What Should Voters Expect At The Polls?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Here are three numbers to keep in mind as Election Day approaches.

INSKEEP: One average of leading polls shows that about 50 percent of Americans currently favor Barack Obama.

MONTAGNE: Around 44 percent favor John McCain.

INSKEEP: And in a CNN survey, more than 40 percent of Americans think their votes will not be accurately cast and counted.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Pam Fessler covers voting issues, and she's joining us in the studio to sort out what lies ahead. Good morning.

PAM FESSLER: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: How well-founded are these fears that votes will not be counted properly?

FESSLER: I think for the most part, people really shouldn't worry too much. Most voters are going to cast their ballots, and they will be counted. There's always that small percentage, though, of areas where there are problems. And depending on where they are and whether the presidential race is close, it could be significant and make a difference. I think what people will see are long lines. We have a lot of new voters this year. That's why officials are telling people that they should come to the polling place prepared. They should know what kind of ID they should bring. And you can usually find that out on your local election office Web site.

MONTAGNE: And another thing we've heard about are contested registration voters; that is, a fair number of voters will show up and find that they are not on a list. But how many would that be?

FESSLER: Well, voting rights advocates think that this could potentially affect thousands of voters, although there's been a lot of legal action that might limit the impact. The states are required by law to match voter- registration information against a person's driver's license or Social Security numbers. But the law is very unclear what states should do if that information doesn't match up. So we have some states, such as Colorado and Florida, which are refusing to sign up new voters until this is cleared up. But then we have other states, such as Ohio, which have decided not to stop people from voting in these cases, and that's because the secretary of state there says a lot of these problems are just clerical mistakes and that eligible voters shouldn't pay the price.

MONTAGNE: Well, what does a voter do if that person is not on the registration list?

FESSLER: Well, one thing they can do is cast what's called a provisional ballot. And that ballot's set aside until after Election Day, and it's counted once any of these discrepancies are cleared up. However, this probably should be a last resort for a voter because a lot of provisional ballots, about 20 percent in 2006, aren't counted for one reason or another. So the best thing is to check with your local election office ahead of time and try to fix things before Election Day.

MONTAGNE: And voting machines, a lot of talk about that. Are they going to be in order?

FESSLER: Well, there are always problems. It's interesting, Renee. For the first time this year, most Americans are going to be voting on paper ballots that will be optically scanned. Only about a third of voters will be using touch-screen voting machines because they've become less and less popular. But even with paper, we still are seeing some problems. Voters don't always fill in the little circles correctly, and that can be a big problem, especially for absentee voters.

MONTAGNE: Pam, what about other pitfalls that I haven't even thought of here that voters might be wanting to look out for?

FESSLER: I think people need to realize that this is a huge undertaking to get tens of millions of voters through the process in one day. We're talking about having about a million volunteer poll workers who will be manning the sites. A lot of them - they're trying their hardest to do as best they can, but they don't always know the rules. And people should realize that if they do run into problems, there are lots of people - such as voting rights groups, the campaigns - who have lawyers and hotlines ready to help and answer any questions.

Another big problem we have is this misleading information that comes out, and it's usually anonymous and intended to scare people away from the polls. These are things like phone calls or signs that tell people to go to the wrong precincts, or that Election Day has actually been changed to Wednesday, or that you can get arrested if you show up at the polls with an outstanding traffic ticket. That happens every year. And the only thing I can say is Election Day is on Tuesday, and you're not going to be arrested. And if you have any other questions about where you vote, you should check with your local election office.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Pam Fessler, thanks very much.

FESSLER: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: And on our Web site, we have links to useful online resources for Election Day. You can get there by going to npr.org.

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