Americans went to the polls Tuesday in an election that has state and local officials across the country on edge as they brace for potential trouble at the polls, contentious legal battles over ballots and misinformation about the vote itself.
More than 45 million pre-election ballots were cast in 47 states, and officials also expect high turnout on Election Day for congressional, state and gubernatorial races that will determine control of Congress and state legislatures.
The vast majority of the tens of millions who will vote on Tuesday will do so without difficulty in an election where early voting has been ahead of 2018 levels. And the vast majority of voting issues will be decidedly smaller and small-scale, such as long queues, bad weather or technical glitches.
Voting rights campaigners in key states said the first hours of voting in Tuesday’s midterms appeared to go smoothly with only isolated problems reported.
“What we’re seeing are things that we normally see on Election Day,” said Susannah Goodman, director of election security at Common Cause. “Sometimes voters go in and one of the voting machines isn’t working or the lines are a little longer.”
In Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest, officials said tabulators had problems in about 20% of its polling places. Maricopa County Chairman Bill Gates and Recorder Stephen Richer advised voters experiencing this problem to put their ballots in a secure box attached to the tabs and assured that they would be counted on Tuesday night.
Some check-in machines at polling centers in Bell County, Texas, were not working Tuesday morning due to synchronization problems linked to the switch from daylight saving time over the weekend. There have also been isolated incidents of e-ballot books going down in Detroit, Michigan, according to Jake Rollow, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of State.
At the same time, election officials are struggling with newfound pressure from the conspiratorial right. Led by former President Donald Trump, a growing number of Republican politicians have attacked the legitimacy of the vote and repeated false claims that the 2020 election was stolen — previewing similar attacks for these midterms.
State and local officials and voting rights advocates have raised the alarm that the political attacks, including a marked increase in threats of violence against election workers, have sparked an exodus of local election officials in charge of voting.
The early voting has given a foretaste of the potential problems, both large and small, that may arise on election day. In Arizona, armed poll watchers were accused of conspiring to intimidate voters, and in Pennsylvania, a legal battle is underway over technical errors that invalidate submitted ballots.
Legal efforts to challenge these issues have also expanded. In total, there have been around 120 lawsuits about voting filed per Nov. 3, compared with 68 before Election Day in 2020. More than half of the cases have sought to restrict access to the ballot, according to Democracy Docket, a liberal-leaning voting rights and media platform that tracks election cases.
In Pennsylvania, some counties are urging voters to correct absentee ballots with missing or incorrect dates, which the state Supreme Court ordered set aside while a federal legal challenge remains looming. In Michigan, meanwhile, a judge dismissed a lawsuit Monday from the GOP statewide candidate who tried to throw out absentee ballots in Democratic-heavy Detroit.
Georgia’s Cobb County on Monday extended the deadline for about 1,000 absentee ballots to be turned in until Nov. 14 after the ballots were not mailed out until just days before Election Day due to procedural errors in the elections office.
In addition to the legal battles, election officials are anticipating possible conflicts with suffragettes, who have harassed and threatened officials during the 2020 election and are bracing for aggressive surveillance of the upcoming midterm contest.
In North Carolina, about 15 incidents of alleged intimidation have been reported to the state Board of Elections since the start of early in-person voting.
Incidents included some people outside a county election board videotaping an election worker’s license plate and a situation where an election worker was followed from the polling place to the election office and then followed to their neighborhood.
In Arizona, the secretary of state’s office has sent 18 referrals to law enforcement related to drop box intimidation, including a threatening message to a state worker and several constituents who report being filmed at drop box locations in Maricopa County last week. A federal judge earlier this month imposed new restrictions on a right-wing group in the state after complaints about aggressive patrols of polling stations in the state, including blocking its members from openly carrying weapons or wearing body armor.
In Beaumont, Texas, a federal judge barred poll workers at a polling place from engaging in behavior that black voters said was intimidating.
U.S. District Judge Michael J. Truncale on Monday issued the temporary restraining order in a lawsuit filed by the Beaumont chapter of the NAACP, which alleged that white poll workers spoke aggressively to black voters, hovered too close behind them while they voted and refused to help them cast their ballots. cast their vote. ballots.
Federal officials have warned that violent extremists at home pose an increased threat to the 2022 midterms.
As the votes come in and begin to be processed and counted on Tuesday, election officials are on alert for conspiracy theories that often spread like wildfire but are outright untrue.
Because laws in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan prevent early processing of mail-in ballots, those states can take several days before all votes are counted. In Pennsylvania, where the Senate race could decide which party controls the chamber, a “red mirage” is expected because Election Day votes, which are expected to include more Republicans, are likely to be cast before mail-in ballots, which more Democrats are expected to use.
The opposite could be the case in Arizona, where mail-in ballots are processed as soon as they are received, meaning those ballots will be the first to be counted after the polls close.
This story has been updated with further developments.