In Ohio, voters have 10 days to prove their ballots should be counted, which means the country could have to wait that long to know who won the election. If either Obama or Romney needs the state’s 18 electoral votes to win, the election may hinge on those ballots.
Several election observers said that, even if Electoral College tallies produce a winner Tuesday night, it is unlikely that the full scope of the popular vote will be known then. As a result of the hurricane, New York and New Jersey will have large numbers of provisional ballots, which will delay counting from large population centers.
Republicans for most of the past year have expressed concern about voter fraud, pushing for new laws in some states that would require a photo identification in order to vote. Democrats have characterized these laws and limits on early voting as voter suppression, saying that many of the laws being pushed by Republicans make it harder to vote, particularly for minorities. In some cases, courts have blocked the voter ID laws, at least temporarily.
“It’s not good. Both sides see unfairness in however things are decided,” said Lawrence Norden, a professor at New York University School of Law and a respected authority on elections law. “When you get down to these incredibly close margins, it’s unavoidable that you see cracks in the system a little bit. And you see partisans on both sides making unsupported allegations.”
Election Protection, a nonpartisan voter advocacy group, has more than 200 lawyers spread around Ohio who will be monitoring polls on Election Day. They will be standing outside polling locations, giving voters information on their rights as they head in to vote, and helping report any complaints.
They are watching for a variety of things, with heightened concern over the use of challenges to voter eligibility and any attempts to keep voters from casting a ballot.
“We are getting ready to go to court if we have to, if we have concern that there’s discrimination or intimidation, especially of challenging voters on Election Day,” said Jennifer Scullion, a New York-based lawyer who will be fielding reports for Election Protection on voting issues in Ohio.
Even before the dispute over early voting, election controversies began boiling in Florida.
Provisional ballots had a high rate of disqualification in Florida’s August primary election, with almost 25 percent getting thrown out. The rate of disqualifications was found to be higher for Hispanics and black voters than for whites in the state, according to statistics reported by University of Florida and Dartmouth College.
“I don’t think that anybody that works in elections, except maybe reporters, are hoping for a close election right now,” Norden said. “The worst-case scenario is it comes down to just one or two states and they are extremely close.”
Christopher Rowland of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org