As voters flooded polling places across the country on Election Day, some reported problems such as long lines, confusion and voter intimidation in states ranging from Texas to Pennsylvania.
While voting appears to be proceeding without any headaches in many locations, the wave of complaints Tuesday morning came as election observers say they expect a significant increase in the number of issues reported nationwide.
As the bitter presidential campaign rumbled toward its conclusion, officials across the country have been bracing for the possibility of confusion and chaos on Election Day, owing to a flurry of new voting restrictions and Republican nominee Donald Trump’s calls for his supporters to closely monitor polling places.
Voters in Florida, a key battleground, have reported multiple accounts of voters saying they have encountered aggressive, intimidating behavior, according to a nonpartisan group monitoring election issues nationwide.
“In Florida we continue to receive a substantial amount of complaints about voter intimidation,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the group running an independent effort to field voter complaints and questions.
Clarke said her group received reports from Miami-Dade County of “yelling, people using megaphones aggressively.” In Jacksonville, in the northeast corner of the state, Clarke said, “an unauthorized individual was found inside [a] polling place.”
This person was at St. Paul’s Methodist Church, a polling precinct in what Clarke described as a part of Jacksonville with predominantly black residents.
“He was asked to leave and refused,” she said. “Through our intervention and calls, that individual has been removed. Unauthorized individuals have no place in the polls.”
During early voting, Clarke’s group also received reports from Hollywood, Fla., about “aggressive individuals hovering around individuals as they approach the polling site,” she said during a briefing with reporters. “Some have turned away because they did not feel able to freely cast [a] ballot.”
Clarke said her group had received reports from about 80,000 voters since the beginning of early voting, and they expected that figure to reach 175,000 reports by the time the polls close. In 2012, that group received 90,000 calls total on Election Day.
Earlier Tuesday, Clarke’s group said that problems with voting machines reportedly caused lines in three precincts in Virginia. The group also heard similar complaints from Philadelphia, one of the cities specifically singled out by Trump during his speeches claiming that voter fraud is “all too common” and asking his supporters to closely monitor other voters.
The office of Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams said it had assembled a task force including more than 70 prosecutors and dozens of detectives to tackle complaints of voter fraud, intimidation and electioneering.
“We, as expected, had kind of a busy call volume in the morning,” Cameron L. Kline, a spokesman for Williams, said Tuesday morning in a telephone interview. Kline said they were not seeing an unusual volume of calls or complaints. “So far the trend is historically rolling the right way.”
The Philadelphia Republican Party posted on Twitter that poll workers in the northern part of the city were handing out literature supporting Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, while inside a polling station.
Problems with machines also cropped up in North Carolina, another major battleground state and home to one of the country’s most high-profile laws imposing new voting restrictions.
There were also other complaints reported across the country. In complaints submitted to The Washington Post, voters described confusion over identification requirements in Pennsylvania, Texas and the District of Columbia, among other issues.
Clarke said the lawyers’ committee was contacted about sites that did not open on time in Brooklyn, New York; New York City; and Boston, along with long lines and broken machines elsewhere.
She said that there were also complaints Tuesday about electronic machines down in Durham County, North Carolina, which has more than a quarter-million residents outside Raleigh. In Georgia, Clarke said, people complained of “11th-hour polling place changes with no notice issued to voters,” creating uncertainty over where to go.
Leading up to Election Day, there have been some heated confrontations between supporters of Clinton and Trump. The specter of possible violence has loomed over Election Day after a particularly vitriolic campaign, one that has seen issues of race, class, gender and ethnicity take center stage in caustic ways.
In a poll last month, half of likely voters said they were worried about violence on Election Day. Meanwhile, U.S. officials recently said they were investigating a possible threat from al-Qaida to carry out pre-election terrorist attacks, although authorities described the threat as vague and said they were unclear if it was credible.
Law enforcement officials from Nevada to Georgia have pledged an increase in officers at some locations, with agencies vowing vigilance and saying they are prepared for possible issues.
The Las Vegas police said they will have units visiting polling locations, though they noted that early voting in Clark County came and went without any issues of violence at the polls. In Chicago, another city named by Trump when he exhorted his supporters to monitor polling locations, police say it is normal procedure for them to have extra officers visiting these sites to ensure safety.
Police in New York are preparing for “a very unique set of challenges” there, because both Clinton and Trump plan to hold election night events in Manhattan, said James O’Neill, the police commissioner.
But O’Neill said that police are prepared to secure more than 1,000 polling locations across the city, as well as the Clinton and Trump events just two miles apart later on Tuesday night.
“Planning for security events like this is a big part of what we do,” O’Neill said during a briefing Monday. “This is nothing new to us.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Mark Berman, William Wan