Is Voter Suppression a Real Problem?

Reports from swing states show irregularities with the voting process both before and on Election Day.

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Voters will finally have their say in the 2012 election as the exhausting campaign season comes to an end Tuesday. Americans heading to their polling sites across the country have faced long lines, and in some cases polling irregularities, which some say are efforts at voter suppression. These irregularities, especially in key swing states, are receiving attention as votes in those places have the power to decide the election.

In swing state Florida, as many as thousands of voters could have received automated calls telling them their polling sites would be open until 7 p.m. Wednesday evening. Polls in fact close on Tuesday, and voting officials said there was a "glitch" in their robocall system. There have also been reports in Florida that polling sites were moved without notifying residents who arrived there to vote.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Tea Party group True the Vote has been challenging voter eligibility in Florida in a heavily African-America area, meaning some voters won't know until they arrive at the polls whether or not they've been cleared to vote or not.

Deliberate voter suppression was also suspected in Ohio, where prior to the election billboards emblazoned with the words "Voter Fraud is a Felony" peppered several poor and minority neighborhoods in Columbus and Cleveland that had not been subject to allegations of voter fraud. The billboards, owned by Bain Capital subsidiary Clear Channel Communications, were eventually removed.

Early voting in Ohio was cut back from 2008, when residents could cast their ballot any of the five weekends before election day. This year early voting, usually taken advantage of by poor, minority, and elderly voters, was only allowed the one weekend before November 6.

[See photos as Voters Head to the Polls in 2012 Presidential Election.]

In Pennsylvania, an electronic voting machine was captured automatically changing a vote for President Barack Obama to one for Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The voter captured a video of the machine repeatedly placing a check mark by Romney's name despite his repeatedly selecting Obama, causing the voting machine to be placed out of service.

Also in Pennsylvania, Republicans were barred by a judge from asking voters for identification outside polling places—a  pending state law there would allow election officials to ask for an ID but voters wouldn't be required to show it. These measures, often targeted at minorities, can cause voter intimidation and result in voters leaving polling places without actually casting their ballots.

Republicans typically support strict voter ID measures, which can prevent early voting, absentee voting, and can challenge voters' eligibility at their polling place.  

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Is Voter Fraud a Real Problem?]

"In America today, a photo ID is required to buy beer or cigarettes, get married, get on an airplane, or enter the Department of Justice to meet with Eric Holder," Cleta Mitchell, president of the Republican National Lawyers Association, writes in U.S. News.

Democrats argue that these measures are deliberate efforts to disenfranchise constituencies that come out in favor of their party.

U.S. News's Susan Milligan says these irregularities and lack of proper response from across the country are embarrassing:

A nation which routinely sends election observers to other countries to make sure everything is on the up-and-up is setting an example of a nation that itself might need some outside monitoring. And it's not because an autocratic president has rigged the voting machines or put political opponents in prison. It's because state officials who simply don't want people who look and think differently from them to have a voice at all are using their authority to get their way. An election in a democracy is supposed to be about someone winning with his or her ideas, not drowning out the expression of opposing ideas.

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