Saturday, November 01, 2008

US - Some fear a 'stolen election'

So-called provisional ballots may be a deciding factor as to whether Barack Obama is elected president next week. Such ballots are issued when there is some question in regards to a given voter’s eligibility. A guarantee that a voter could cast a provisional ballot if he or she believes that they are entitled to vote was one of the guarantees of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Four main reasons include where the voter refuses to show a photo ID, the voter's name does not appear on the Electoral role for a given precinct, the voter's registration contains inaccurate or out-dated information such as the wrong address or a misspelled name, or if the voter's ballot has already been recorded.

However many have criticised the system and suggested the system is open to abuse. In the 2004 US election, controversy arose out of arguments regarding the interpretation of the criteria for determining the eligibility of voters using provisional ballots. Some alleged that these discrepancies of interpretations, particularly in Ohio, may have been a deciding factor in the outcome of the election. In the 2004 election, at least 1.9 million provisional ballots were cast, and 676,000 were never counted due to various states' rules on counting provisional ballots. With greater voter registration the number of rejected ballots in this year’s election could be much higher [Wall Street Journal].

Under the Help America Vote Act, states are required to match the driver's license number or Social Security number on a new registrant's voter application against motor vehicle and Social Security Administration records. However, many of those databases are often filled with errors or inconsistent information. This has led to concerns that many votes will simply go uncounted.
One concerned journalist is Greg Palast who today spoke on London’s independent radio station LBC. He said “Many people outside the US are unaware that such a practice even exists” and warned that despite the general consensus amongst the media that Obama would win, his hopes might be dashed by strict enforcement and twisting of the rules behind the legislation. On his websites, and, he suggests that many votes will simply be “stolen” from the electorate. “If Democrats are to win the 2008 election, they must not simply beat John McCain at the polls - they must beat him by a margin that exceeds the level of GOP vote tampering,” Palast and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. summarized in a recent report.

Their concerns are also expressed elsewhere. “Provisional ballots are really the Achilles’ heel of our electoral process, because in a close race that is the pressure point lawyers use to try to undo the results,” Edward B. Foley told the New York Times. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University, is one of the nation’s foremost experts on voting litigation. Besides issues of rejected and spoiled ballots, there are also concerns over the use of electronic voting machines which could be open to hacking [Independent].

With polls showing strong leads for Obama, a perceived ‘stolen election’ may precipitate a more than angry response from certain quarters.

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