Common Cause Documents and Responds to Voting Issues Across the Country
As millions of voters head to the polls today, Common Cause is working in the Election Protection coalition to help voters across the country who are having issues voting and working with election administrators to solve problems. For 50 years, Common Cause has a nonpartisan resource to voters, helping solve problems and making our elections more accessible and secure for all voters. Common Cause’s work in the 2020 Election Protection effort is focused on running field programs in targeted states where we organize and train nonpartisan volunteers to help voters and monitor issues at polling places. Common Cause also leads a social media monitoring program to flag and work with social media platforms to remove posts that spread misinformation and disinformation about people’s right to vote or posts that attempt to confuse people about when, where, and how to vote.
“The freedom to vote is a cornerstone of our democracy,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “Our work to protect the vote is more important than ever as we continually see partisan attacks on the people’s right to vote, serious risks when it comes to election security, and an alarming rise in the spread of disinformation and misinformation on social media. The important thing is for every eligible voter to show up and make their voice heard, as they did numerous states today. What we learned today is going to impact how we are going work with election officials moving forward to make sure in the November elections voters will be confident their vote counts.”
Below are summaries of some issues Common Cause and our coalition partners identified and worked to fix today. Feel free to reach out to us to speak to a national or state expert about any of these issues.
- On Social Media: Our social media monitoring team was active throughout the primary season and today starting before the first polling place opened on the East Coast through the end of voting on the west coast. We found many voters reporting issues voting similar to what we heard through the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline and saw with our nonpartisan poll monitors in the field. As of 6pm ET, we have made over 200 direct contacts with users on social media providing assistance, and encouraging them to call the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline to report their experience voting so we can use this data to work with election officials to improve the voting experience. Many voters posted concerns, questions or frustration at difficulties voting — and they were happy to hear that the Election Protection coalition is available to help voters and help fix these problems. By interacting with these users, we are able to solve their individual problems while also promoting the hotline so more voters know that help is a phone call away. We provided correct information about voting procedures, including how some unaffiliated (“No Party Preference”) voters can select a party ballot in California, what voters should know if they are told they need to use a provisional ballot, and where to find alternative websites that will accurately tell them where their polling place is located. We also lifted up and promoted the trusted sources for voting information, like local election officials and Secretaries of State.
- In addition, we found multiple examples of cyber suppression content — social media posts with disinformation or deceptive practices that could cause a voter to be disenfranchised. This content was similar to the kinds of posts we have sadly seen in previous elections: attempts to confuse voters with the wrong date, false claims that they can text in or tweet their vote. We documented this content and worked with the social media platforms to quickly remove it so additional voters won’t be affected.
- In Texas: Throughout the day, we have seen both serious and minor problems across the state. Late polling site openings were reported in Travis, Tarrant, Harris, Bexar, and Caldwell counties. We believe this is a result of voting machine malfunctions and last-minute changes to polling locations. We received reports of voting machine failures, electronic poll books not functioning, or other technology issues at polling locations in the following counties: Kerr, Dallas (Dallas), Tarrant (Fort Worth), Bexar (pronounced bear)(San Antonio), Harris, (Houston), and Travis (Austin). In some locations, technology failures led to polling locations effectively shutting down and/or creating very long lines. We are working with election administrators to address these issues and ensure people have the opportunity to vote. We also saw the Texas Secretary of State’s website, which houses a polling place lookup tool, go down for more than two hours this morning. Common Cause Texas organized 300 volunteers in 29 counties across the state to help voters who were having issues at the polls today.
- In North Carolina: Election Day has been smooth across North Carolina for the most part, with slow, but steady voting and few major issues. The most significant issue so far happened at one precinct in Bertie County (Snakebite Precinct) this morning where an equipment malfunction prevented voters from casting ballots for approximately 30 minutes. The State Board of Elections voted unanimously to extend voting hours at that precinct by 30 minutes until 8pm. Common Cause NC helped organize a march to the polls at St. Augustine’s University, a HBCU in Raleigh, with close to 100 students participating. We also hosted a nonpartisan GOTV bus to the polls at Fayetteville State University. In addition, Common Cause NC staff and volunteers have been out in the field in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh and Fayetteville making sure the election runs smoothly and reminding voters that there is no photo voter ID requirement for today’s election.
- In California: We have seen some issues across the state as counties are implementing new voting systems, including electronic poll books, vote centers, and same day registration. So, we expected some hiccups as new systems were implemented. We have seen the Secretary of State’s voter registration database go down twice today, which resulted in at least 18 counties reporting problems with accessing the voter registration database. Fresno County, which has a significant Latino population, was impacted so much by this that many vote centers were essentially shut down and, in some cases, told voters to leave. Our response has been that poll workers should be giving everyone the opportunity to vote provisionally. This is precisely why we work with election administrators and urge them to have backup paper poll books at polling locations. In Los Angeles County, there have been issues with the electronic poll books loading slowly in several polling places. This is causing problems, including long lines and forcing people to vote provisionally. We’ve been working with LA County officials to get county election staff at these locations with replacement e-poll books to check people in. We must remember that many of these problems are because people are showing up and using California’s good pro-voter laws that expand access to the ballot box, like same day voter registration. That is a good thing. Making sure every eligible voter can cast their ballot is our goal and we believe we are working well to meet that goal.
- In Minnesota: For less than 20 minutes, the Secretary of State’s website faced a technical error where it directed people to a partisan website. The Secretary of State’s office quickly fixed the problem, apologized, and noted that there was no evidence that “voting systems were hacked or otherwise interfered with in any way.”
- In Tennessee: Nashville and surrounding areas were hit by a devastating tornado and storm. This has led to a loss of life, significant destruction of buildings, and power outages. There have been delays in opening polling places, emergency changes to some polling locations, and some polling places not opening at all. The Election Protection coalition, led by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, sent a letter to Governor Bill Lee and Secretary of State Tre Hargett to urge them to immediately extend voting in the primaries through at least the end of the week to provide voters a fair opportunity to access the polls.