The NAACP will monitor voting in 10 states next month, sending observers to polling places, taking citizen complaints and notifying the Justice Department of any serious problems, the civil rights organization announced Monday.
The states were chosen because of pivotal elections, concentrations of black voters, or a history of polling problems, the Baltimore-based organization said.
President Bruce Gordon said the organization intends to be proactive "to ensure that Nov. 7 comes and goes smoothly and that every citizen across this country, and particularly in the state of Maryland, who has an interest in voting, in fact is able to vote."
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People planned to have hundreds of volunteers monitoring the election in Maryland, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, Gordon said.
Maryland's primary election last month was riddled with problems that caused precincts to open late or cause other delays, prompting court action in some areas to extend voting hours.
Problems included difficulties with electronic poll books used to check in voters and a lack of poll judges. In Baltimore, some poll workers did not show up to open polling places. Problems in Prince George's County included the transmission of data from precincts to the county election board after polls closed. In Montgomery County, polls opened late because electronic cards voters use to cast ballots were not delivered along with the touchscreen voting machines.
The NAACP said volunteers will observe targeted precincts in the Baltimore area and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Results of an Associated Press-Pew poll released last week found only 30 percent of black voters surveyed nationwide were confident their votes would be counted.
Gordon said he sent a letter Friday to Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, asking him to ensure the electronic poll book problem was fixed, that there were enough trained polling place volunteers, and that there be enough provisional ballots in case of problems. He also asked Ehrlich to direct election boards to hold demonstrations so voters could become familiar with the voting machines.
Ehrlich responded later Monday with a letter to Gordon saying he shared the organization's concerns and would sent a copy of Gordon's letter and his response to the chairman of the state elections board. The governor said he would ask the board to respond to Gordon's proposals in the next week.
However, the governor added state lawmakers have "dramatically altered" oversight of the state elections board in the past four years, which "has insulated the State Elections Administrator from accountability to the governor's office."
"State law does not grant me authority to require the State Board of Elections to perform the six specific items delineated in your letter. Nonetheless, I support the actions you are requesting and, in fact, have called for many of these actions," Ehrlich said in the letter.
Election Day command center
The NAACP will run an election day voter command center at its headquarters and take calls from concerned citizens at (866) OUR-VOTE. The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and People for the American Way will work with the civil rights organization to monitor complaints of voting irregularities and advise voters, the NAACP said.
Gordon also said he was puzzled by the Republican governor's suggestion that Marylanders use absentee ballots to avoid election problems.
"What's troublesome to our organization about this is that absentee balloting has normally not served the African-American community very well," Gordon said.
The NAACP believes the best way for its members to vote is "to go to their polling places and cast their votes using whatever machines are on site," he said.
While the civil rights group will monitor the election process, Gordon urged voters to head to the polls, "even if it requires extra effort."
"Civil rights activists went to extraordinary lengths to earn the right for black Americans to vote," Gordon said in a statement. "Some lost their lives. We owe it to them and ourselves to honor their sacrifice by voting, no matter what challenges we face."