Two years ago, the week before Election Day, I drove to Harris County, Texas. More specifically, I drove to the Acres Homes Multi-Service Center, a polling location for early voting in one of Houston’s poor, predominantly black neighborhoods. After alleging that Harris County had a widespread problem with voter fraud, a Tea Party group called the King Street Patriots had launched a project called True the Vote, which had trained hundreds of volunteer poll watchers. As the early voting period began, reports had begun to trickle out about white poll watchers arriving at minority precincts and intimidating voters. In Texas, poll watchers, appointed by a political party to watch the proceedings, aren’t allowed to do much; they’re barred from communicating with voters. But these poll watchers, foreign to the neighborhoods they were working in, were apparently not all observing the rules.
As I walked into the building, I asked one of the custodians how to spot the poll watchers. “Just look for the white people!” he told me. He said that he’d heard about people who were afraid to bring elderly relatives to vote because “first thing [they’d] be thinking about is 1960.”
The stories I wrote for The Texas Observer explained why voters could easily feel threatened: “Around the lines of voting booths, ramps into the building created a mini-balcony, from which two poll watchers looked down at the voters. Both older white men, they maintained a serious expression for the entirety of the two hours I was there. Sometimes they wandered amidst the voting booths. Since everything was crammed together, it wasn’t hard to imagine how one of the watchers could feel intrusive to a voter. There was barely room for people standing in their rows.”
Ohio's elections haven't exactly been known for being smooth affairs—ask anyone who was around in 2004, when a shortage of voting machines in heavily Democratic precincts caused extremely long waits and cries of foul play. But this year, things could be even more chaotic.
When Oregon voted on the nation’s first ballot initiative in 1904, the idea—as high-school civics teachers have told students ever since—was to take power away from the industries that ran the state legislature through bribes and corruption and return it to the people. In those days, corporate interests dominated and corrupted state politics all across the United States. Mining and railroad companies loomed particularly large, buying off entire legislative chambers and putting lawmakers on their payroll.
What began last week as a trickle—a report from the Palm Beach Post that the Florida Republican Party was cutting ties with a firm that turned in "questionable" voter-registration forms in one county—has now grown into a pretty ugly flood. Turns out the Florida GOP paid the firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, to do voter registration, while the Republican National Committee paid the same firm millions to register voters in four other battleground states: Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, and Colorado.
Thanks to a decision today by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, Pennsylvania's controversial voter-ID law will not be in effect in November. Though voters will be asked for one of the several allowable government-issued photo IDs at the polls, those who do not have such identification will still be able to cast the usual ballot. But the future of the law is still murky, and the legal battles will likely extend far beyond election day.