Monday, March 10, 2008

News from the front: Questionable voter experiences in Ohio

Several voters in Cuyahoga County have reported that streets were blocked in front of many voting precincts.

On March 5th, art_house_queen wrote:

I went to vote yesterday in Cleveland, and of course, I was super AMPED to finally voice my support for Obama.

What I wasn't prepared for, however, was the crazy ride down Chester and Euclid after seeing humongous ROAD CLOSED signs blocking both entrances to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

Imagine this: I'm driving with my two sisters in tow, trying to get at a parking space for the Board Of Elections, and I see two looming signs:

On one side, the roads simply said: ROADS CLOSED. On the other side it said: ROADS CLOSED: Local Traffic Only. Signs lined the other side of Euclid Avenue, where the street to BOE is actually on.

But what was "Local traffic" supposed to mean? This is Cleveland, where those silly street cameras take pictures of your car and charge you 100 for going 5 miles over the set speed limit. This is the city where a great many police officers are corrupt and will pull you over for minor offenses and charge you major fees, even if you've made a mistake.

If you don't follow the rules in Cleveland, you get fined. Massively. So, understandably, people were stopped at the road, saw the sign, then drove off, obviously confused as to what to do.

The officer in the car just sat inside, looking as cars stopped, waited, then sped away.

I drove around for a couple minutes, trying to find a spot somewhere close, to no avail. All the streets were filled with cars and people and dogs and snowy, nasty mud...but there was not a poll worker or police officer in sight to direct us would-be voters to the right path to the Board Of Elections.

My sister, I'll call her Eagle-Eye, spotted up ahead that a car drove around the cop car, the sign and rushed down the street.

I decided to follow suit.

We made it through the street, and parked in the University parking lost. We hopped out and took the short walk to the BOE.

Inside, a security guard was talking with a police officer.

"There are not really that many people here," he said softly, "I think it's because you guys have the streets blocked off."

My sisters and I looked at eachother. The police officer grumbled a reply that I couldn't hear. He saw us staring, and pointed us to the elevators.

Upstairs, I went to get my provisional ballot and I asked the poll worker at the desk why the roads were blocked off in that manner.

She only stared at me, shocked, "What? They ARE?"

I nodded.

She left me for a moment, then came back with my sign-up sheet. "Fill out the form, please."

And no mention was made of the semi-blocked off streets.

I don't know why the streets were blocked off in that manner. I just don't understand why there were no visible signs or people directing us where to go, where to park or what route we should take to get to the Board of Elections.

It obviously affected the turnout, in my opinion. It may seem simple in hindsight, but in a city that notoriously has had problems with its government, and with the disdain many officers hold for the common people, I assure you the reality is a lot heavier.

Strategy and computer security consultant Jon Pincus, formerly at Microsoft Research, backs up her story in his blog, Liminal States:

They ran out of ballots in Sandusky County and Franklin County; voting machines broke down in Montgomery County and no doubt elsewhere; a dozen computer memory cards spent the night in the back of a sherriff’s van in Lucas County before being counted; in Obama stronghold Cuyahoga County, voter privacy was compromised and huge numbers of provisional ballots still haven’t been counted.

The Secretary of State is “very pleased”, highlighting improvement over 2004. Business as usual in Ohio. Nothing to see here, move along, move along …

Except …

This time there may be a new wrinkle. Scott Isaacs has been following the issues in Butler County, and broke an interesting story: under Ohio law, Republicans who followed Rush Limbaugh’s call to hold their nose and vote for Clinton appear to have committed election falsification, a felony, punishable by six to twelve months in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.

(Full Article)

Jon Pincus helped organize a panel on dependable software and voting sytems, when he was on a National Academies committee and was on another voting panel at Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2005 looking at voting databases.

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