Analysts predicting complete meltdown in Florida election

If election analysts have it right, the horror of the hanging chads in the 2000 presidential election will pale in comparison to the panic of the provisional ballot of 2012.

For the past year, lawyers and politicians have been waging a war called “voter sanctity vs. voter access.” Republicans want assurance that each vote cast is legitimate, while Democrats want to see that everyone has equal access to the polls.

At issue are voter identification laws enacted by various state legislatures, some of which are under challenge in the courts. According to Stephen Ohlemacher, writing for the Associated Press, “New laws in competitive states like Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin could leave the outcome of the presidential election in doubt — if the vote is close.”

University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith reasons that when one throws the laws still pending in the courts into the mix, “It’s a possibility of a complete meltdown for the election.”

The problem’s genesis is the provisional ballot. New election laws may require voters to present identification at the polls or to notify election officials when they change addresses. This meets the “voter sanctity” issue of the GOP. In order to assure equal access, such laws also provide that the voter may cast a provisional ballot if there’s an identification or residency problem. If the number of provisional ballots can make a difference in how that state will cast its electoral votes, we may want to call out for pizza — it’s gonna take a while.

Smith said that if the election is a squeaker, “all eyes are going to be on those provisional ballots, and those same canvassing boards that were looking at pregnant chads and hanging chads back in 2000. It’s a potential mess.”

In Florida, provisional ballots are placed into an envelope, which is signed by the voter, and that signature is then matched with the one on the registration form. This could be a real “nightmare on Main Street” given the fact that the traditional battleground that is the Sunshine State has tightened up its change-of-address requirements.

According to George Mason University election expert Michael McDonald, Florida election officials may be looking at upwards of 300,000 provisional ballots on Nov. 6. “You want to see chaos in Florida?” he said. “There it is.”

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