Franklin County officials say they allocated machines according to instinct and science. But Hackett, the deputy director, acknowledged the need to examine the issue more carefully. "When the dust settles, we'll have to look more closely at this," he said.
In Knox County, some Kenyon College students waited 10 hours to vote. "They had to skip classes and skip work," said Matthew Segal, a 19-year-old student.
In northeastern Ohio, in the fading industrial city of Youngstown, Jeanne White, a veteran voter and manager at the Buckeye Review, an African American newspaper, stepped into the booth, pushed the button for Kerry -- and watched her vote jump to the Bush column. "I saw what happened; I started screaming: 'They're cheating again and they're starting early!' "
It was not her imagination. Twenty-five machines in Youngstown experienced what election officials called "calibration problems." "It happens every election," said Thomas McCabe, deputy director of elections for Mahoning County, which includes Youngstown. "It's something we have to live with, and we can fix it."
As expected, there were more provisional ballots, and officials disqualified about 23 percent. In Hamilton County, which encompasses Cincinnati and its Ohio suburbs, 1,110 provisional ballots got tossed out because people voted in the wrong precinct. In about 40 percent of those cases, voters found the right polling place -- which contained multiple precincts -- but workers directed them to the wrong table.
In Cleveland, officials disqualified about one-third of the provisional ballots. Vu, the election board chief, said that some poll workers may have also mixed up their punch-card styluses -- that would account for why a few overwhelmingly Democratic precincts recorded large numbers of votes for conservative third-party candidates.
Still, state officials saw little to apologize for, particularly in the case of provisional ballots. A recent count of provisional ballots sliced 18,000 votes off Bush's margin in Ohio. "In Washington, D.C., a voter who casts a ballot in the wrong precinct cannot have that ballot counted," said Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Blackwell. "Yet in Ohio, it was 'voter suppression' and 'voter disenfranchisement.' "
In the days after the election, as voters swapped stories, anger and talk of Republican conspiracies mounted. "A lot of folks who, having put an enormous amount of energy into this campaign and having believed in the righteousness of their cause, can't believe that we lost," said Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County election board.
Most senior state officials, Republican and Democratic alike, tend to play down the anger. National Democrats -- including the chief counsel for Kerry's campaign in Ohio -- say they expect the recount to confirm Bush's victory.
But that official view contrasts sharply with the bubbling anger heard among rank-and-file Democrats. While some promote conspiratorial theories, most have a straightforward bottom line. "A lot of people left in the four hours I waited," recalled Thivener, the mortgage broker from Columbus. "A lot of them were young black men who were saying over and over: 'We knew this would happen.'
"How," she asked, "is that good for democracy?"
Slevin reported from Cincinnati. Special correspondents Michelle Garcia in New York and Kari Lydersen in Chicago contributed to this report.