WASHINGTON, DC — From Nation intern Emma Dumain, comes this dispatch:
It’s like the Situation Room here at Election Protection’s National Command Center in Washington, DC, where the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law is overseeing the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline. The group has hundreds of volunteer lawyers and law students manning 750 phone stations at 25 centers across the country, prepared to respond to calls regarding Election Day roadblocks, but its also doubling as a site for live press briefings from voting rights experts and coalition leaders.
Watching the electronic maps here projected onto a giant screen–tracking minute-by-minute reports from the polls, state-by-state–is like watching an army advance toward the battlefield. The forty or so on-call volunteers cradle phone receivers between their ears and shoulders as they type updates onto their laptops. The walls are covered in home-made signs with FAQs: “Can I take time off from work to vote?” and “What if I never received an absentee ballot?”
“The phones have been ringing steadily since I got here at 5:30 this morning,” said Abby Levine, a volunteer with the Alliance for Justice. She explained how phone attendants are the ultimate multi-taskers today, filing reports for the www.ourvotelive.org website while searching the web to answer individual questions. No caller is left waiting longer than two minutes in the queue for an attendant to pick up the line.
This morning, the majority of calls coming into the D.C. call center have been from Florida, the state from which the fifth highest volume of complaints are coming nationwide (at 12:45 p.m., the number was at 1,251). Among a variety of problems, one involves the parcel of absentee ballots never received by a rehab facility for elderly voters who still wish to participate in the election. In South Florida, close to two dozen machines are malfunctioning. Voters in the state are also confronting difficulty finding their names on official registration lists, even though they mailed in their paperwork on time.
According to voting rights experts here in Washington, the major source of the problems being encountered everywhere lies in states’ inability to meet the overwhelming voter turnout this time around, illustrative of the problems in the system as a whole.
“This has been a troubling day so far,” said Barbara Arwine, the Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We do not have the resources to handle high voter participation…Imagining what would be going on if we had 100 percent voter participation!
But according to Melysa Sperber, a volunteer phone campaign who normally works at the Vital Voices Global Partnership, there have also been some unexpected disturbances.
“One of the things that’s been coming up a lot is the difficulty disabled voters are having, ones who don’t have absentee ballots, or people who have recently gotten sick or in accidents and don’t have access to the polls,” Sperber said. “It’s really disheartening to hear those stories.”