The 2010 elections were carried out Tuesday without the overwhelming rash of campaign irregularities predicted by both sides of the political aisle, although there were scattered claims of voter fraud and voter suppression in several states and one formal investigation in Kansas into accusations of voter intimidation.
In Philadelphia, a man wearing a pin identifying himself as a member of the New Black Panther Party showed up at the same polling place where party members were accused in 2009 by the Justice Department of intimidating voters during the 2008 elections - a case later dropped by department supervisors. The unidentified man caused no trouble.
Other incidents also were reported: In South Carolina, Democrats said “tea party” activists harassed students at a polling place at a historically black university; in Houston, tea party members challenged the validity of voter registrations; and in Los Angeles, voters reported receiving a Spanish-language prerecorded call telling them to vote Wednesday rather than Tuesday.
In Kansas, the state attorney general is investigating accusations that voters were given false information in telephone calls, including instructions telling them the election had been moved to Wednesday and they could not vote if they didn’t bring proof of home ownership to the polls. Voter intimidation is a felony in Kansas.
Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition of voting rights group, reported problems at polls across Illinois, including poorly trained poll workers, misinformation about poll locations and hours, ballot machine malfunctions, voter registration issues and improper identification procedures.
National Review also reported that executives at Harrahs Entertainment Inc. were encouraging their employees to vote for Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who is locked in a tight race with Republican challenger Sharron Angle. The magazine said e-mails between the Reid campaign and Harrahs executives appear to show casino bosses asking employees to vote for Mr. Reid.
Poll watchers from both parties were busy throughout the country looking for any irregularities. Democratic Party officials said they had deployed 10,000 lawyers and other poll watchers, while Republicans promised a “robust presence” at the polling places.
Last month, the Justice Department vowed to thwart any efforts to intimidate voters at the polls and to ensure that the ballots of military voters are counted, as activists on both sides of the political aisle reignited their regular election-time tango over the dangers of voter fraud versus voter suppression.
Facing separate investigations in its handling of a voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party and questions over the failure of absentee ballots to be sent to military personnel and their families by the legally required date, the Justice Department moved to assure voters that they will have access to the polls and their votes will be counted in the midterm elections.
The department said it is committed to the enforcement of federal laws “that prohibit voter intimidation and suppression based on race, color, national origin or religion” at the polls, and would make sure that “our men and women serving overseas have the opportunity to vote and have their votes counted.”
Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said the department had implemented a “comprehensive program” to help ensure ballot access and prohibit voter intimidation, and had reached agreements or won court orders in 14 states and territories to protect 65,000 overseas and military voters ahead of the midterm elections.
But the confident tone of Mr. Perez’ message was challenged by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, who charged that it was “outrageous” for the Justice Department to “solicit congratulation for procrastination, while many of our military voters are very likely being disenfranchised.”
“The department should have been more proactive much earlier, by giving each state clear guidance on the new requirements under the MOVE Act and by ensuring from the start that each state had a satisfactory game plan for protecting the voting rights of our troops and their families,” Mr. Cornyn said.
“Instead, the department sat back and watched as states tested the limits of the MOVE Act, then tried to patch problems after the fact with half-measures,” he said. “Our military voters deserve better than this lethargic approach from the Department of Justice.”
The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, or MOVE, enacted last year, requires states to transmit validly requested absentee ballots to voters no later than 45 days before a federal election. The act allows states to request waivers if they think the 45-day requirement will pose undue hardship. The Defense Department is responsible for determining which states will be granted waivers.
The FBI also issued a separate press release last month noting that the Justice Department was committed to the enforcement of federal laws “that prohibit voter intimidation and suppression based on race, color, national origin or religion,” and would ensure that “our men and women serving overseas have the opportunity to vote and have their votes counted.”
The Justice Department had come under increased scrutiny in recent months over its handling of a civil complaint in the New Black Panther Party case, initially sought by the Bush administration but later dismissed by Obama administration officials after a default judgment had been ordered by a federal judge.
Additionally, several states failed to comply with MOVE and many lawmakers wanted to know what the Justice Department had done or would be doing about it. Some lawmakers expressed concern that Justice officials did little after 16 states and territories were caught in noncompliance.