November 6, 2018 / 11:16 AM / 12 days ago

U.S. voter advocates sue over delays at polling sites

WASHINGTON/ATLANTA (Reuters) - Voting rights activists successfully sued Georgia and Texas asking them to extend voting hours in some counties after problems with voting machines led to delays and long lines thanks to a big turnout in U.S. elections on Tuesday.

A suit by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Arizona failed, the group said. But it won an extension in Fulton County, Georgia, one county in about a dozen U.S. states that experienced delays, largely in sites still using ageing voting machines overwhelmed by the volume of voters, according to officials and rights groups.

Other Georgia polling places extended hours without facing lawsuits.

Two Texas civil rights groups won a lawsuit to secure longer voting hours in Harris County, Texas, after polling locations in the Houston area opened late due to equipment glitches and other issues.

In Ohio, a court ordered the state to provide ballots to voters who were being held in pretrial detention in county jails, following a lawsuit filed the same day by two public interest groups.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security described the problems as “sparse,” and an official told reporters they did not seem to have been a significant impediment to voting in the elections, which will determine if Republicans keep control of both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

Some Georgia voters saw lines of hundreds of people waiting to cast ballots to pick their next governor following a bitter and racially charged contest in the southern state. Two Georgia polling places near the historically black colleges Spelman and Morehouse agreed to remain open until 10 p.m. ET (0300 GMT) following a legal challenge, the NAACP civil rights group said.

Fulton County officials did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

In Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest which includes the Phoenix area, several polling places experienced delays due to printer malfunctions, County Recorder Adrian Fontes said.

The Lawyers’ Committee lost its suit to extend voting hours at fifty polling locations in the county, the committee’s head, Kristen Clarke, told reporters in a conference call.

“We know for a fact that there are people in Maricopa County who were not able to have their voice heard this evening,” Clarke said.

A long line remains past the 7 pm cut off for midterm elections at Liberty Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

Two senior legal experts who advise the Democratic Party told Reuters they were unaware of any serious hacking or electronic disruptions related to Tuesday’s elections anywhere in the United States. But one of the experts said that lines at polling places in Georgia were long and disruptive.

Officials in Philadelphia and North Carolina reported scattered voting machine outages, and addressed the problems by offering provisional ballots to some voters. Voter advocacy groups alleged equipment-driven delays in Florida and Texas.

AGEING MACHINES

Delays appeared to be most common in states with ageing voting machines, said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those states are at the top,” Norden said. “I would also imagine that it’s worse just because this seems to be a much higher turnout election, and I think when you get a much higher turnout election, the same problem will look a lot worse.”

He also noted that there seemed to be fewer complaints of faulty voting equipment compared with the last U.S. congressional midterm elections in 2014 in states that have updated their machines, such as Virginia. Norden emphasized that his observation was based on anecdotal reports.

Broken voting machines were reported in at least 12 states on Tuesday, according to an “election protection” coalition of more than 100 groups that set up a national hotline for reporting irregularities.

Civil rights groups have already been locked in litigation with several states over voting restrictions that were passed in the lead-up to Tuesday’s election.

North Dakota introduced a voter ID requirement that Native Americans say discriminates against them; Kansas and Georgia moved polling locations, and changes in Tennessee registration laws led to people being removed from the voting lists.

Advocacy groups said the changes stack the deck against minority voters who are likely to support Democratic candidates.

Each of those hotly contested states’ top election officials have said the changes were made to protect against voter fraud and accommodate budgetary constraints, not to suppress voting.

Slideshow (4 Images)

Independent studies have found that voter fraud is extremely rare in the United States.

For full election coverage see: here

Reporting by Julia Harte in Washington and Maria Caspani in Atlanta, Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Joel Schectman and Christopher Bing in Washington, and Daniel Trotta in Phoenix, Arizona; Editing by Jim Finkle, Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall

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