David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

It was widely reported yesterday that Missouri's Democratic secretary of state had trouble voting absentee in the St. Louis area:

Secretary of State Robin Carnahan raised concerns about potential voter confusion in Tuesday's elections, citing her own experience casting an absentee ballot as an indication that some poll workers may wrongly be asking voters for a photo identification.

Carnahan told The Associated Press on Monday that a worker at the St. Louis Election Board asked her three times to show a photo identification when she voted absentee last Friday - despite a Missouri Supreme Court ruling striking down the photo requirement.

We'll be keeping an eye today on whether this remains a problem in Missouri precincts, where the Talent-McCaskill race is too close to call.

Real-time reporting of election-related problems can be found here. Scroll down and click on the U.S. map. You will be able to view by state and county. Ohio jumps out already this morning with numerous reports of problems in the largest counties. The site seems to be getting a lot of traffic and is slow to load.

Late Update: The site has crashed.

TPM Reader AM checks in from Ohio:

Reporting from Summit County, where we use optical scan machines: my husband and I were in line at 6:30 a.m. when the polls opened so we were the 14th & 15th people in our precinct (8-C) to vote. Unfortunately, the optical scanner wouldn't accept any ballots. I hung around until 7:30 a.m. to see if they got it working and when I left it was still down. Of course, it took all 4 of the octogenarians staffing the precinct table to try to "fix" the problem so the line was backed up out the door & into the parking lot, where voters were treated to a light morning drizzle.

Sure hope my vote gets counted. And I hope not too many people had to bail out of the line in order to make it to their jobs on time.

Keeping the bloggers at bay:

Two-by-two, polling specialists from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press will go into rooms in New York and Washington shortly before noon Tuesday. Their cellphones and BlackBerrys will be confiscated; proctors will monitor the doors; and for the next five hours, these experts will pore over exit-poll data from across the country.

If all goes well, only when they emerge from their cloisters will the legions of ravenous political bloggers have any chance of getting their hands on the earliest indication of which party will end up controlling Congress.

Let's just remember folks that this is about protecting the value of their proprietary information, not some high-minded effort to prevent the misuse of the polling data. That's fine. No one is expected to reveal his or her scoop in advance (in this instance, literally before it's ready for primetime).

What remains ironic though is that it's the major news organizations themselves that over-rely on the exit polls and have done so for years. The 2000 and 2004 debacles aside, the exit polls have long driven the networks' election night coverage, providing them with the pretense of speaking authoritatively about the results before the results are known.

It is television that has turned election night into the political equivalent of the Superbowl, where the Democrats and Republicans will battle it out for four hours or so and then a winner will be handed the trophy by a beaming TV announcer. For those four hours, they want us on the couch eating Doritos, not surfing the web for exit poll data.

You wonder though. If all the money the networks pour into exit polling went instead into political reporting, actual political reporting, wearing out the shoe leather about who's doing what and where during the last hours of the campaigns and on election day, whether the result might be more informative for the electorate. Maybe, for instance, the networks would have caught on to the NRCC's nationwide robocall scam first, instead of the blogs.

The networks closing themselves off in sealed rooms with no connections to the outside world for five hours in the middle of Election Day is, in many ways, the perfect metaphor for what is wrong with the mainstream media.

After all the voting shenanigans in Florida I can understand to an extent why voting officials there might be a little defensive. But this column by Tom Lyons in the Sarasota paper shows how at least one local voting official's defensiveness turns into attacks on those reporting problems with voting machines:

[Superviser of Elections Kathy] Dent has long been getting mad at anyone who raises any concern about her voting machines. No matter how reasonable or polite the people may be, they are assumed to be up to no good.

I was also struck by Dent's claim to me on Thursday, after just a handful of reported problems and little or no press coverage.

"These reports of alleged problems with the voting machines have been blown out of proportion," Dent said.

What? By whom? And how? Is mentioning a problem now bad judgment?

I asked Dent to explain, but got no answer.

Dent also insisted, in another e-mailed message, that the reports of problems actually indicate the machines are working properly, because all the accounts ended with successful votes.

That is quite a conclusion. It ignores the obvious fact that if some machines are sometimes losing ballot choices, anyone who didn't notice the error would, of course, not be able to complain.

We posted yesterday about the problems during early voting in Sarasota. Read Lyons' entire column here.

You can hear one of the NRCC robocalls here, from the race in the New York 19th Congressional District.

Reports out of New Hampshire suggest the NRCC has stopped its deceptive robocalls there after intervention by the state Attorney General, but confusion remains about what exactly the NRCC has agreed to, and it appears at least some calls are continuing.

From the Union-Leader:

A national Republican group yesterday scuttled a pre-recorded phone call effort the state Attorney General's Office said may have violated New Hampshire law by contacting residents listed on the federal Do Not Call registry.

The National Republican Congressional Committee voluntarily agreed yesterday afternoon to stop making automated calls to homes on the registry, said Deputy Attorney General Bud Fitch, who oversees election law.

. . .

Fitch said the agreement with the RNCC came after a conversation about 2 p.m. yesterday between the Attorney General's Office and the general counsel for the Washington-based RNCC.

The state continue to investigate, with no decision on whether to pursue civil action, Fitch said.

Rather than a complete halt to the robocalls, the NRCC seems to have agreed to stop making prerecorded calls to voters on the national No Call List. Federal law permits political advocacy calls to phone numbers on the No Call List on First Amendment grounds, but New Hampshire, like some other states, prohibits prerecorded calls to phone numbers on the No Call List. The NRCC may have been violating the New Hampshire law.

For now it appears that the NRCC has agreed to stop its robocalls only to a subset of New Hampshire voters.

Update: The NRCC contends the New Hampshire law does not apply to it:

Alex Burgos, NRCC spokesman, said his organization has been making calls to independent voters in the state's Second Congressional District since Monday and would continue to do so. . . .

"We are a federal organization campaigning about a federal race," said Burgos. "We feel that New Hampshire law does not apply to what we are doing."

In any event, the involvement of the New Hampshire Attorney General has been limited to the very narrow issue of whether the calls are going to voters on the No Call List and not whether they are intended to mislead or harrass voters.

It now appears that isolated reports of the NRCC's robocall tactics began emerging a week or so ago, but the reports were sporadic, and it didn't become apparent that the repeat phone calls were part of a coordinated national campaign until over the weekend.

One of the earliest accounts came in an Illinois newspaper article from November 1:

Rozanne Ronen, a Barrington resident, got the call -- "Hi. I'm calling with information about Melissa Bean ..."

Then she got the call again and again and 18 more times, making for a total of about 21 calls since October 24.

"They are very annoying," Ronen said.

Pat Vockeroth, of Mount Prospect, received the calls too -- "Hi. I'm calling with information about Tammy Duckworth ..."

"If you only listen to the first sentence, you think they are from the Duckworth campaign," she said.

But the calls aren't paid for by Bean, Duckworth or even the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, they are paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The NRCC acknowledged that it was the source of those Illinois calls but suggested a contractor was to blame for the repeat calls:

Jonathan Collegio, NRCC spokesman, acknowledged that the NRCC has paid for series of robocalls in the 6th and 8th districts, saying phone banking are part of any modern campaign.

"Phone banking is used by campaigns of all stripes and all these calls are made between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.," he said.

Asked about the repetitive nature of the calls, Collegio said that may be a problem with the contractor.

"Because these calls are done by computers, it could be some kind of a glitch. This is all a matter of voter contact where we are trying to make sure people are aware of the upcoming election and make sure they vote the right way," he said.

Given that harrassing repeat calls have been reported in congressional districts around the country, it is unlikely that this is merely a contractor's "glitch." But the repeat nature of the calls was not immediately recognized as part of the NRCC's national robocall campaign. For instance, an AP report on the NRCC campaign which also appeared on November 1 focused on the fact that the calls had a tendency to mislead voters into thinking they came from the Democratic candidate, but made no mention of the fact that calls were being repeated multiple times in order to harrass voters and leave them with a negative impression of the Democratic candidate.

The NRCC robocall campaign thus flew under the radar exactly as intended.

We'll have more on this and other voter suppression tactics throughout the day.

Need proof that our election system is broken?

San Diego ran out of absentee ballots and was forced to mail out photocopies of the actual ballot.

If that wasn't bad enough, when the photocopied ballots are filled out and returned, the Registrar of Voters staff will copy the votes by hand onto the actual ballot, which can then be run through an optical scanner.