MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Next, to Colorado, where controversy around the practice of purging voter rolls came to a head late last week. Here's Adam Burke.
ADAM BURKE: Linda Johnson and her husband, James, were all set to vote. The couple moved to Colorado Springs last January, and within a few months, they'd registered. When they received their mail-in ballot in August, everything seemed fine.
Ms. LINDA JOHNSON: Our address was perfect on the ballot. Our names were perfect just the way we filled it out. Our voter registration card, master ballot, there was absolutely nothing wrong.
BURKE: But one evening in September, the Johnsons got a call from the Brennan Center for Social Justice, a voter rights group. A woman explained to Linda and James that their names were on a list of voters who had been removed from the voter rolls in Colorado.
Ms. JOHNSON: And I didn't understand it, so I thought it just had to be a mistake. Maybe, you know, she had the wrong person. Or maybe, I don't know, maybe they made a mistake and put our name on it. But I was going to call and find out what it was.
Mr. JAMES JOHNSON: And we actually went down to the clerk's office the next day, and the lady at the clerk's office said that we wasn't on the list, and we couldn't vote.
BURKE: The Johnsons were able to reinstate their eligibility that day, but the experience got them wondering.
Ms. JOHNSON: What if nobody had called me?
BURKE: Linda Johnson asked staffers at the clerk's office what would have happened if she hadn't called. She was told their ballots wouldn't have been counted, which raised even more questions.
Ms. JOHNSON: How can it be that easy to just switch a name off after you've already registered and went through all the proper procedures? And someone could just take your name, actually take your right and say, no, you can't vote.
BURKE: It's actually routine for state governments to scrub voter rolls to eliminate duplicate names, names of people who have moved or died. Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman says the practice is essential.
Mr. MIKE COFFMAN (Secretary of State, Colorado): Whenever you have a person who's not legally entitled to cast a ballot cast a ballot, I mean, there's a lot of room for fraud.
BURKE: Coffman says the state provides provisional ballots for individuals who show up at the polls to find their names have been removed. But last Friday, a federal judge ordered him to stop purging voters from the state rolls and to reinstate voters who had been purged. He says the ruling undermines the state's ability to weed out questionable voter registrations.
Mr. COFFMAN: I complied, wasn't happy about it, because once you put somebody on the rolls to receive a regular ballot, once that ballot's cast, it can never be retrieved.
BURKE: According to the groups who filed the motion, Coffman was violating a federal law that says states cannot purge voter rolls 90 days before an election. Laura Flanagan is executive director of Colorado Common Cause. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: JENNY Flanagan is executive director of Colorado Common Cause.]
Ms. JENNY FLANAGAN (Executive Director, Colorado Common Cause): The federal law is clear in terms of protecting voters by not taking them off the list close to an election because mistakes might happen. And in Colorado, the state went too far. That's why the court stepped in.
BURKE: Flanagan says, even though some purged names have been reinstated, there could be problems today at the polls.
Ms. FLANAGAN: This year, with a lot of problems with our voter registration list, from voter purges, to incomplete registrations, we expect a lot of voters to be surprised that they're not on the list, and we have concerns about whether or not our counties are prepared.
BURKE: Flanagan says Colorado had some 50,000 provisional ballots to count in 2004. If the race between John McCain and Barack Obama is close here, the state may need to examine all the provisional ballots, a process which Secretary of State Mike Coffman says could take days or even weeks. For NPR News, I'm Adam Burke.
BRAND: We'd like to hear from you if you encounter any problems at the ballot box, such as broken machines or long waits or anything else. Go to npr.org/votereport.