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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Voters Versus Organized Chaos

Early on this election day, reports from everywhere show incredibly long lines at polling places. And in many, many places, voters will be battling not only impatience and fatigue–and in some cases, bad weather–but disorganized and organized chaos in voting procedures.
The legal situation surrounding voting procedures remains chaotic going into election day. Last night a federal court of appeals panel, on a 2-1 vote (with the deciding vote being cast on procedural grounds) struck down two earlier federal district court rulings that would have banned partisan challenges of voter eligibility in Ohio. In New Jersey, a federal judge ruled that Republican efforts to use old voter registration lists as the basis of polling place challenges violated a 1981 agreement by the national Republican Party to no longer pull this sort of crap. (The impact of this decision is questionable, since GOPers will be in the clear if they don’ obviously use such lists).
But here’s the Big Bertha of brewing controversies, and a big part of the reason the GOP is investing in polling place chaos: the status of “provisional ballots.” Under the grossly misnamed Help America Vote Act of 2002, voters whose names aren’t on polling place registration lists, or whose eligibility is otherwise in question (e.g., because partisan goons have challenged them), will be handed a provisional ballot that legally cannot be counted until after election day, when the voter’s eligibility is adjudicated according to whatever system the jurisdiction has worked out.
Try to wrap your mind around the following number: an estimated 5 percent of votes cast nationally today will be “provos.” That’s more than 5 million votes, and an estimated 250,000 in Ohio alone.

I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that exit polls have been designed to systematically include or exclude provos, but since the networks and other news organizations will be using AP-complied raw vote totals to “adjust” exit poll projections, it probably doesn’t matter. Here’s the bottom line: tonight’s vote totals in many states will in all probability significantly undercount the Democratic vote, not only for president, but for Senate, House, and state and local offices as well. And that means (1) we can count on Republicans to issue victory claims in such cases, as in Florida in 2000; and (2) the adjudication and counting of provos could very well be the ball game, and will certainly be the subject of post-election day legal maneuvering and local election board shenanigans.
Decisive Democratic margins of victory, even without the provisional ballots, are about the only way this scenario can be avoided.

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