Voters Face Some Confusion At Polls In Alabama Special Election

“Any bit of suppression can make a big difference" in a close race, warned one voting rights advocate.

Civil rights groups monitoring Tuesday’s special Senate election in Alabama, a high-profile contest between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, said voters have contacted them to report a range of difficulties.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which ran a voter protection hotline throughout the day, said as of early Tuesday evening the hotline had received about 300 calls. Not all of the calls necessarily involved voting problems, but some clearly did.

The hotline heard from would-be voters who found they had been marked as “inactive,” a status that doesn’t legally prevent someone in Alabama from casting a ballot as long as they update their voter information at the polls. During a conference call with reporters, Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, said that voters reported being told incorrectly that they couldn’t vote or had to vote by provisional ballot.

Voters were also confused about “straight ticket” voting, an option that lets people choose all the candidates from a single party by simply checking one box. According to Clarke, voters wanted to know what would happen if they checked the box for one party, but then also wanted to vote for another party’s candidate in one race. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) issued a statement Tuesday clarifying that voters could choose the “party preference” option at the top of the ballot, but still select a specific candidate in a particular race and the latter vote would count.

There were reports of misinformation outside the polling places as well. Clarke said her group was investigating text messages that incorrectly informed voters their polling place had changed. She said the Lawyers’ Committee had also contacted Twitter to try to get posts containing inaccurate information removed. She said she was “disappointed by the response rate” in pulling those posts down.

Other election observers told HuffPost about long lines at the polls in Alabama. Kate Messervy, a Jones campaign volunteer, said there was a two-hour wait at some precincts and she brought bottles of water to people waiting in line.

Stacey Patterson, a volunteer for the Jones campaign, said she visited two polling locations in Huntsville where voters were told they could either come back later to vote or leave their ballot with poll workers.

“Obviously most of the voters were not comfortable with that so they left and hoped they could make it back by their lunch break. It is undetermined how many people didn’t make it back, but lunch hour is when I showed up and there were several return voters,” she said in a text message.

Brock Boone, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said he received about a dozen calls about precincts in Mobile turning away voters. People reported being turned away or having to fight hard to cast a ballot if the address on their ID didn’t match the address on the voter rolls, Boone said. Some of the people, he said, were leaving the polls to go home to get a document like a passport to prove their identity.

“I’ve heard that a lot of people who aren’t contacting us are just kind of giving up after they’re being told, ‘Sorry, your address doesn’t match,’” Boone said. “Other people have told me while they’re waiting to provide more information to the chief clerk, they see other people just give up and get out of line.”

Boone said he had discussed issues at one Mobile precinct in a black neighborhood with county probate judge Don Davis.

“His words were ‘Yes, this is a minority neighborhood. I know you’re wondering about that.’ He said, ‘I try to put minority people working those polls, so you shouldn’t worry about it,’” Boone added.

Davis did not immediately return a request for comment.

Discouraged voters could make a big difference. Boone said.

“If this is coming across the board in Mobile, especially in the city, where there’s a lot of individuals who are Democrat, I mean that changes everything,” he said. “We’re anticipating a close election so any bit of suppression can make a big difference.”

This article has been updated with comments from Stacey Patterson.

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