Election Monitor Discusses What Issues Voters Have Encountered At The Polls
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We've been reporting on voter suppression. These are efforts to block people from casting their ballots, such as moving poll locations, changing ID requirements and purging voter rolls, for example. But voters can face all kinds of obstacles.
Myrna Perez heads the Voting Rights and Elections project at NYU's Brennan Center for Justice. She spent today at a call center in New York run by the nonpartisan group Election Protection. It's where voters can call in if they encounter problems at the polls.
She took a break to visit our New York studios, and she joins us now. And first, tell us what it's like at the call center. How busy is it?
MYRNA PEREZ: It's moderately busy, and I think it's actually really exciting because, for all the talk that there is about voters being disenchanted and disengaged, I've been talking to voters all day who care a lot about their democracy, and they care about their community. And they care so much that they're reporting problems to us that they experience at the polls.
CORNISH: Give us an example of a call that has come in, maybe what state. You don't have to give us a name or anything like that. But what's the style of complaint?
PEREZ: We're hearing a lot of complaints that are frustrating because they're preventable - so machine breakdowns happening all across the country, where people are having a hard time getting in and getting out because there's something wrong with the voting machines.
We're hearing about poll workers making mistakes, either not having the right keys that they need, not opening the polling locations on time, not understanding what the rules are. We're also hearing that voters are having trouble with either the registration rules because they think that they're on the rolls and they're finding themselves not on the rolls, or that they don't understand or didn't receive their absentee ballots and what that means for them on Election Day.
CORNISH: Are these...
PEREZ: We're also...
CORNISH: Oh, go ahead.
PEREZ: I was going to say but we're also seeing some really exciting things about voters coming together to try and protect the right to vote.
I mean, one example I'm thinking of is that in Mississippi, there was a police roadblock pretty much in front of a polling location. And through Election Protection, we were able to reach out to two groups on the ground, NAACP and the Mississippi Center for Justice. And they were able to do some advocacy to get those - to get that police car moved. And, you know - and that's exciting to...
CORNISH: Let me jump in here because you mentioned voting machines. You mentioned workers making mistakes. You haven't talked about people saying there is a new rule, and I can't seem to get past this obstacle. Are there people calling from states where you have been watching and wondering if there would be a problem?
PEREZ: We are seeing some predictable problems in states that we have been concerned about. For example, we - there's a lot been going on in Georgia. There's been a lot of complaints in Georgia and the way that their election administration system has been going this election season. And sure enough, we're getting a lot of complaints that the machines aren't working.
We've also been hearing about people not understanding the rules regarding when someone gets provisional ballots and when they don't. I think this all goes to say that election administration is an important part of our election process and a part of our democracy. And if we want to be the best democracy in the world, we need to make sure that it's well resourced.
CORNISH: I want to go back to something you mentioned then, provisional ballots, because what can someone do if they're in line for a vote and told to go home, or what's the alternative?
PEREZ: You should not be turned away at the polls. You have a legal right to cast a provisional ballot. Whether or not it gets counted depends upon whether or not you're eligible and if an election administrator can determine that.
But if you are in a position where you're casting a provisional ballot, you should demand information on how to check to see if that provisional ballot were cast or counted and what you need to do in order to get that counted.
CORNISH: And what are your monitors telling voters right now?
PEREZ: Persist, persist, persist. If you are having trouble at the polling location, call. Call 866-OUR-VOTE. We're happy to help you. Make sure that you do not turn - you not leave the polling location without voting either a regular ballot or a provisional ballot. The right to vote is important and fundamental, and people need to do what it takes to make sure that they cast a ballot.
CORNISH: Myrna Perez is head the Voting Rights and Elections project at NYU's Brennan Center for Justice. I hope we can check in with you throughout the night.
PEREZ: Certainly. At your service.
CORNISH: Thank you so much.
PEREZ: Thank you.
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