The election is just a few days away, and polls suggest that President Obama and Mitt Romney are essentially tied. Democratic and Republican strategists alike say the contest could be decided by razor-thin margins in a handful of swing states, including Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. Even a small mistake by state or local election officials could have game-changing consequences — hanging chads, anyone? — as could a ruse that succeeds in discouraging the other side's base from showing up at the polls. Both sides are already crying foul, accusing each other of dirty tricks intended to tip the scales on Election Day. Though the culprits aren't always clear, here are five alleged underhanded moves that could make a difference:
1. Bogus voting instructions
While the campaigns focus on mobilizing their supporters, some unscrupulous operatives appear determined to keep the other side at home. In Florida and Virginia, some black, Spanish-speaking, and elderly voters — many of whom are Democratic — were erroneously informed that they could vote by phone, or were warned that officials would be checking car insurance and registration at polling stations. "This isn't necessarily a new tactic," Eric Marshall of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law tells The Huffington Post. However, there were reports of such tricks occurring earlier than usual this year, perhaps because of the Obama campaign's increased emphasis on early voting. And the tactic wasn't isolated to Virginia and Florida. In Maricopa County, home of more than half of Arizona's voters, Spanish-speaking voters got instructions listing election day as Nov. 8, says Reid Wilson at National Journal, which is two days after polls close.
2. Phony letters
Officials in Florida are investigating bogus letters, sent mostly or entirely to Republicans, telling recipients they have been "flagged as suspected illegal, non-citizen voters," says Adam C. Smith at The Miami Herald. The letters, purportedly sent by local election officials, warned the recipients that voting illegally is a third-degree felony in the state. "Our campaign is concerned with this situation," said Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams, "and we are monitoring it closely."
3. Tossed voter registration forms
In what appeared to be an isolated case, an employee for a company that registers voters for the Republican Party of Virginia was recently arrested for allegedly destroying voter registration forms. Colin Small, 23, was charged with destroying voting material after he was seen throwing eight forms into a dumpster. The local sheriff said the stunt "appears to be limited in nature," as there was no evidence that other forms had been tossed.
4. Fake ballots
Patrick Moran, 23, resigned as field director for his father, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), after being caught on video by undercover filmmaker James O'Keefe explaining how to cast fraudulent ballots. "You have to forge it," he says on the recording. "It's got to look good." Patrick Moran maintains his innocence, but police said they would investigate.
5. Anti-Obama conspiracy movies
Jane Bowman, an independent, pro-Obama voter in Florida, said she was shocked to find a film in her mailbox arguing that President Obama's father was really a communist agitator named Frank Marshall — not Barack Obama Sr. "I think it's just a dirty trick. It just astonished me," said Bowman. "I think they're doing everything they can to win Florida." Joel Gilbert — who made the film, Dreams of My Real Father — says he sent seven million copies to homes in swing states, but not to influence voters. He claims that he was just trying to drum up media coverage of the film.