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Super Tuesday voters find machine hiccups and delays, but voting goes smoothly

Tuesday, February 5, 2008 | 10:08 p.m. CST; updated 10:59 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Scattered voting problems, including machine glitches and long lines, emerged in some states on the biggest Super Tuesday ever held in America. But overall, voting appeared to go smoothly.

A record turnout was expected as an unprecedented 24 states held primaries and caucuses to narrow the field for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees.

In the blue-collar Connecticut town of Manchester, just south of Hartford, turnout surged to nearly 70 percent, forcing election officials to photocopy 3,000 ballots. Asked if he was surprised, registrar Frank Maffe Jr. replied, “Astounds me is more like it. It’s amazing.”

There were long lines in Minnesota, Georgia, Tennessee and Kansas. In Johnson County, the largest in Kansas, Democratic caucuses reported delays due to long lines and the relocation of one caucus because of overwhelming turnout.

There were similar crowds in Minnesota, where Democrats and Republicans waited in jammed hallways to cast caucus votes. Party officials said sites would stay open to accommodate every one in line as of 8 p.m., the cutoff time.

Precincts in Eastern Tennessee stayed open late so throngs of voters in line at closing time could cast ballots. Across the state, however, at least four counties had to close polls early because of tornadoes. “We don’t like to see this happen, but we’ve got to do what we have to do to protect our poll workers,” said state Election Coordinator Brook Thompson.

Long lines also affected Illinois, but Cook County Clerk David Orr said there were only minor problems in a handful of precincts. “We don’t think we lost any voters,” he said.

Some votes were apparently lost, when about 20 folks at a Chicago precinct were given styluses designed for touch-screen machines instead of ink pens. When voters complained the devices made no marks on their paper ballots, a ballot judge told them the markers were full of invisible ink.

“After 20 people experienced the same problem, somebody said ‘Wait, we’ve got 20 ballots where nobody’s voted for anything,”’ said Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen. Officials were trying to contact the voters; Allen said both the voters and the judge believed the invisible ink theory.

Another oddity occurred in Florida, where voters excited by Super Tuesday tried to cast ballots. Election officials reported fielding hundreds of calls from confused people who apparently forgot — or were unaware — that Florida’s primary was held last week.

Voters in Georgia, who are now required to present photo identification, were faced with lines of up to 90 minutes long. Poll workers were bogged down comparing IDs against computerized registration records.

“That (comparison) process with the computer terminals is very slow, and that can create some long lines,” said Clare Schexnyder of Election Protection, a national election monitoring group. “We’re finally figuring out that it’s not that there are not enough voting machines, it’s the check-in process.”

By its nature, electronic voting is prone to both man-made and technical glitches. In the South, voting was affected by acts of nature.

“Voting machines are always going to have issues. That’s inevitable,” said Tova Wang of The Century Foundation think-tank. “They’re machines that are operated by human beings.”

Tornadoes also hit Arkansas. Natasha Naragon, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said several polling locations closed in northern Conway County.

“It’s been a wild night,” state emergency management spokesman Tommy Jackson told Little Rock television station KATV. “A heck of a way to have elections in Arkansas.”

In Arizona, where voting activists feared a controversial photo ID rule could cause confusion, things were apparently fine.

“People are walking up to the polls with their drivers’ licenses in their hands,” said Mindy Moretti, who was monitoring voting for the watchdog group electiononline.org. “People seem ready for it. No one seems to be upset.”

In the lead-up to Super Tuesday, voting advocates worried that long lines, high turnout and record numbers of mail-in ballots in states such as California could drag out the counting process for days. Across the country, election officials have estimated that mail-in ballots may account for as much as 50 percent of the vote in some areas.

More than 5 million people have requested mail-in ballots in California, where there are 15.7 million registered voters. Election officials in the most populated and delegate-rich state in the country have said results may not be available until Wednesday or later.

As much as 25 percent of the overall vote may go uncounted Tuesday night, officials said.


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