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Voting Problems Renew Efforts to Overhaul System

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Long lines to vote on Election Day in places such as Columbus, Ohio, have spurred activist groups and election experts to call for an overhaul of the voting system.

Floridians dealt with confusion over early voting and the misreading of ballots. A Doral, Fla., polling place opened the Sunday before Election Day and continued accepting ballots after the early voting period had ended, only to close with hundreds of people waiting in line. Complaints followed, and the polling place reopened soon after.

There were also problems on Election Day in St. Lucie County, just up the coast from Palm Beach, where GOP Rep. Allen B. West has challenged his apparent loss to Democrat Patrick Murphy. Election officials initially and erroneously reporting having a more than 100 percent turnout rate thanks to two-page ballots that were counted twice, which led to charges of widespread voting fraud.

In Arizona, election officials are still struggling to count hundreds of thousands of provisional ballots, in part because of the state’s voter identification law. As a result, the results of three congressional races were not immediately known.

As of late Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Ron Barber, who replaced former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after winning a special election earlier this year, clung to a narrow lead over Republican Martha McSally. Advocacy groups have called on the Justice Department to investigate and have staged protests where the votes are being counted in Maricopa County.

Efforts to modernize the system have for years been blunted by partisan suspicions over motivations for change, said John Fortier, a political scientist who studies electoral institutions at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Democrats tend to focus on expanding access while Republicans are primarily concerned with voter fraud and removing ineligible voters.

“Both sides have different world views,” he said. “It’s possible we will do something at the federal level, but I think it is more likely we will do something at the state level.”

Advocates of overhauling the system, especially on the political left, support legislation that would require states to offer online voter registration, institute measures to combat deceptive practices and promote registration through early voting and same-day registration programs, which exist in almost a dozen states. But the bill, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., has little Republican support.

Tanya Clay House, chief lobbyist for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing voter access, has already been working to revive interest in the bill but acknowledged it would be an uphill battle. At minimum, she would like to see federal action on registration.

As a model, activists point to a system developed by the Pew Center on the States, the Electronic Registration Information Center, that has been adopted by seven states: Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

“Our goal is to at least have the big bill there and then to extend that. We can pull out pieces and push them through,” she said.

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