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Election Day Glitches Mix With Court Battles Over Voting Rules

Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- In Florida, thousands of voters received phone calls erroneously telling them they had until tomorrow night to vote. In Pennsylvania, judges ordered a mural of President Barack Obama covered at a polling place and the re-installation of Republican officials who had been ejected from polling places.

As voting was under way in today’s presidential election, there were occasional glitches and court battles as thousands of lawyers and volunteers for both parties kept watch on polling places.

The biggest source of Election Day complaints is confusion over voter identification rules, according to Barbara Arnwine, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Seventeen states passed laws in advance of the election requiring that voters show photo identification before casting a ballot.

“There has been massive confusion in multiple states over the right voter identification requirements,” said Arnwine, who works with the Election Protection Coalition, an umbrella organization of civil rights groups, unions and lawyers.

With polls showing a close race between Obama, a Democrat, and Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, several election cases wound up in court today in Pennsylvania. The state Republican party reported more than 70 Republican election officials had been ejected from Philadelphia polling places by election judges. The Republicans won a court order giving access to their officials.

Obama Mural

The Republican Party of Pennsylvania also challenged a mural of Obama photographed in a polling place in Philadelphia. A judge ordered the mural covered.

People outside a polling place near Pittsburgh were barred by a Pennsylvania judge from asking prospective voters for identification. Pennsylvania, which passed a law requiring voters to present a form of photo identification, was blocked from enforcing the law in today’s election.

In Pinellas County, Florida, more than 12,000 voters received automated messages from the county elections office today saying they had until tomorrow night at 7 p.m. to vote, according to Linda Walburn, an office spokeswoman. The election office later called back with the correct information.

Democrats’ Glitch

In Washington, D.C., a glitch with an automated phone system resulted in a handful of residents receiving calls from the Democratic Party telling them to go to the polls tomorrow, according to Tania Jackson, a spokeswoman for the local Democratic Party. The party followed up with new calls that provided the correct information, Jackson said.

At polling places around the country, volunteers and federal officials kept watch.

The U.S. Justice Department sent 780 federal observers to 23 states to monitor the election. Observers and other personnel from the department went to 51 polling places and jurisdictions around the country, including counties in Ohio, Colorado and Florida. Polls in those states showed that the presidential race was close.

In Franklin County, Ohio, local volunteers for True the Vote, an organization that sends volunteers to monitor elections and pursue voter fraud, were barred from serving as observers. The volunteers’ need to have candidates who appear on the ballot as sponsors, and the paperwork with that information wasn’t properly completed, said Ben Piscitelli, a spokesman for the Franklin County Board of Elections, in a statement.

Congressional Probe

“Our voting location managers were instructed not to honor any appointment on behalf of the True the Vote group,” he said.

The group, which is the subject of a congressional probe by Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, for alleged voter suppression and close ties to the Republican Party, pledged to send as many as one million volunteers to observe polling places around the country.

Catherine Engelbrecht, the president of the Houston-based group, said in a statement that two candidates rescinded their sponsorship of the True the Vote observers.

“This is a final, desperate attempt to deny citizens their right to observe elections,” Engelbrecht said in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Phil Mattingly in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at

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