Update: Group warns some states may be unprepared for Election day

WASHINGTON – As the ranks of new voters swell, a nonpartisan watchdog group predicted Tuesday that voters in three Southeastern states may face problems voting on Election Day.

Common Cause, a citizen’s lobbying group, examined voting preparedness in 10 states where the presidential race is expected to be tight and was most concerned about Florida, Georgia and Virginia.

Inadequate state voter databases, strict voter registration and identification rules that could disenfranchise voters as well as too few voting machines are among the biggest problems, the group said in a report. 

The group looked at likely swing states, including Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

With a record turnout likely throughout the country, inadequate preparation for the election could be particularly problematic, said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause.

“The voter infrastructure in many states may not be equipped to handle that kind of pressure,” he said.

In Florida, Common Cause pointed to strict voter registration and voter identification laws that have the potential to prevent thousands of voters from registering to vote.

People registering to vote in Florida must provide an exact match of their identifying information to existing state databases or risk having their voter registration denied, Common Cause said. The group said the policy results in the rejection of thousands of valid voters because of minor clerical errors. 

Florida’s law is “creating extra hoops and hurdles for people to vote,” said Tova Wang, vice president of Common Cause and author of the report.

Jennifer Krell Davis, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State, said the state has taken steps to prevent problems. She said the state also informs voters of any errors, and they can present election officials with information verifying their identity in person, by mail, fax or e-mail.

State law also allows voters to verify the information up to two days after Election Day, Davis said.
Common Cause cited Georgia’s state voter identification law as “harsh” because it requires a government-issued photo identification card.

In Virginia, Wang was critical of laws about student voting and the state’s strict residency requirements.

“Virginia has a history of making voting more difficult for students,” Wang said.

Valarie Jones, a deputy secretary for the Virginia State Board of Elections, said the board has clarified its policies for students in the past week and provided the information on its Web site. 

“It’s up to the voter to decide where he or she is to vote,” Jones said.

Wang said she worries about Virginia’s status as a presidential battleground and the possibilities of long lines and not enough voting machines.

“They haven’t seen that kind of activity and attention in a long time,” Wang said.

Wang said there is time before Election Day to make some improvements, but more long-term changes are needed.

“I think [election officials] are trying,” she said. “But I don’t think they’ll have the laws or policies in place to ensure they’ll be ready.”

Contact Amy Dominello at 202-662-7671 or adominello@mediageneral.com

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