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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Election Day isn't for voting anymore

Vote early.

I'm not saying that because I'm afraid you'll change your mind before election day, or because I worry that you'll forget to vote in the general election. I'm saying that because I don't want you to go through what I went through on primary day. I arrived at my polling place only to find that I was in the book under the wrong party, despite having been a registered Democrat all my life, and despite having voted every year in that same polling place as a Democrat for about a decade. In my state, the error meant I could not vote in the primary I wanted to vote in. It took me two hours at the county courthouse and an appearance before a judge to gain the right to vote in the primary of my choice.

If you think that story is a fluke, it's not. When I arrived at the courthouse, there were a half-dozen others there for the same reason. And the mistake was always the same: Democrats incorrectly listed as Republicans. I was later told by the executive director of the county Democratic committee that there were many more cases than the few I'd encountered myself. The explanation given by voting officials was human error: When the paper records were being entered into a database, because this is a heavily Republican county, the data entry people sometimes automatically checked "Republican" without paying attention. This is not a very credible explanation, and even if true, it hardly inspires confidence.

If you think it's just my little corner of New Jersey with the funny business, it's not. Remember 2000. Here's a fine reminder: Steal the Election Once, Shame on Me, Steal It Twice...

If you can't vote early and you do encounter a problem at the polls, do what I stupidly didn't do: Demand to cast a provisional ballot. Then, if you don't happen to have a couple of hours to spend getting the mess straightened out right then, you can do it later.

Oh, and after that, don't forget to do what I did: Call some reporters.

(ETA: Just read the Rolling Stone article, Block the Vote, which can be downloaded at They warn against casting a provisional ballot because they're often tossed in the event of a vote-counting dispute. In fact, they say, in 2004 a third of provisional ballots were tossed. So don't settle for the provisional ballot. Do whatever you have to do to cast a regular vote on or before election day.)

These voters would not be denied
by Lawrence Ragonese/ The Star-Ledger
Wednesday February 06, 2008, 9:25 AM

There were quite a few stories Tuesday of people striving to overcome obstacles that might have prevented them from voting. Here are a couple from Morris County:
Tamar Wyschogrod of Morris Township would not be denied when it came to casting a ballot for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. It took a two-hour battle, including standing in front of a Superior Court judge in her gym outfit, to win her case.

For Colleen Markley of Morristown, it took three-hours to get court approval in her quest to vote for Obama.

Wyschogrod went to the Sussex Avenue polling place Tuesday morning, after her workout. A long-time Democrat, she found herself listed in the official voting rolls as a Republican. Poll workers said there was nothing they could do for her -- she could vote Republican or take her case to a judge.

So, she drove to Morristown -- in a car that sports a sticker that says "Defend America, Fire the Republicans -- spoke to elections officials and went before Judge Stephen Smith.

"I was kind of mortified. The judge was holding a trial and had to dismiss a jury to hear my case," said Wyschogrod. "And here I was in my gym outfit in court."
Eventually, she got a court order from Smith allowing her to vote. But it was not an easy process. A check of computerized voting records showed Wyschogrod voted in the 2000 presidential election as a Republican.

"Not so," she said. "I was really adamant about this. So, they had to go back and check the original paper records. Finally, they straightened it out."

But even with a court order in hand, however, when Wyschogrod went back to her polling place, she said poll workers still wanted her to sign the voting book as a Republican, where her name was listed. She refused, prompting more discussions, until, finally, they agreed to put her name on the Democratic register - with an explanatory note.

So, was it worth the effort and disruption of her life to cast a Democratic vote?
"Damn straight it was," she said. "I really wanted to vote for Obama. They weren't going to deny me."

Colleen Markley and her husband, Brian, were registered as Republicans since 1994. But in May, 2007, they filled out forms to change party registration and handed them in to a records/documents office at the Morristown municipal building.
When Colleen attempted to vote at 11 a.m. Tuesday, however, she found she and her husband were still listed as Republicans. She was given an option by poll workers of going to court to plead her case.

So, she took her young daughter home for a nap, called her father to come over and baby-sit, and headed to county elections offices, with six-year-old son Alex in tow, to sort out the problem.

"I really wanted to vote. I'll admit, I went home a cried when told I could not vote as a Democrat." the Morristown woman said.

Markley eventually got a hearing before Superior Court Judge W. Hunt Dumont who ruled in the couple's favor. He ruled they made a sincere effort to change party registration and said town officials should have directed them to the correct place to hand in required forms.

Was the three-hour ordeal to get a court order worth it to Markley?

"Yes it was," she said. "I wanted to vote for Obama. We've seen his speeches on TV and on-line. We were impressed. I'm so glad I'll get to vote for him."

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