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Computer Glitches Frustrating Voters

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By Alan Cooperman and Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 7, 2006; 6:52 PM

Technical problems with new voting machines frustrated some voters in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey and several other states as voting got underway this morning, but the computer glitches and other delays did not appear to be widespread or politically motivated, election monitors said.

With roughly a third of Americans casting ballots on new voting equipment, the two major parties fielded teams of lawyers and poll watchers ready to contest any irregularities. Republicans were particularly on the lookout for voter fraud or illegal casting of ballots. Democrats were wary of voter suppression, or attempts to keep legitimate voters from the polls.

There were scattered initial reports of possible fraud, such as an early vote cast in Tennessee by someone using the name of a man who died in 2003. But by mid-afternoon, there were no allegations of systematic fraud or major disruptions in voting.

It's been "fender benders but no tie ups yet," said Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, an online election reform project that was tracking the voting nationwide.

In Denver, election officials this year merged hundreds of traditional precincts into 55 voting centers, contending it would improve efficiency. Instead, voters faced two-hour lines at some centers because of computer problems and a shortage of election judges.

Brian Mason, spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party, said the computers crashed and shut down the poll book, an electronic database of registered voters. Initially, voters were offered provisional ballots. Then the ballots ran out.

"Hundreds of voters were not allowed to vote this morning because of the computer problems," Mason said.

Colorado Democrats asked a Denver District Court to extend voting by two hours in the evening, but Judge Sheila Rappaport denied the request, saying it was an issue for the legislature. Mason said the Democratic Party chose not to appeal, focusing instead on calling for all voters who were turned away in the morning to get back in line by 7 p.m.

Election specialists had predicted problems at the polls stemming from confusion among poll workers and voters about what kind of identification people would have to show. A few reports of problems related to ID cards quickly surfaced.

In South Carolina, Gov. Mark Sanford (R), seeking a second term, initially was turned away from his polling site because he had not brought proper identification. His campaign manager, Jason Miller, said the governor arrived at his voting location, on Sullivan's Island near Charleston, shortly before 10 a.m. with his driver's license but not his voter registration card. His license, Miller said, was not acceptable because it contained the address for the governor's mansion, not his home address.

The governor went to a county office, secured a registration card, and returned to vote. "He's thankful our poll workers are diligently checking identification," Miller said.

In Indiana, elderly poll workers had trouble setting up computerized voting machines in the morning, causing nearly a quarter of the precincts in Indianapolis to turn to paper ballots for a few hours.

"We had a rough start," said Marion County Clerk Doris Anne Sadler, who said the 222 precincts with machine problems were evenly spread through Indianapolis' Republican-leaning outskirts and Democratic-leaning inner city.

Some older poll workers, Sadler said, were unable to hook up cables between optical scan voting machines and new touch screen models for people with physical disabilities. She compared the task to connecting a printer and mouse to a laptop computer.

"For younger poll workers, it's natural. For some older ones, it's a foreign concept," she said, noting that the average age of poll workers in Indianapolis is 72.

A judge ordered polling places to remain open late tonight in all 75 precincts of Indiana's Delaware County, northeast of Indianapolis, because the electronic voting machines there were programmed for the wrong ballot, a spokesman for the Indiana secretary of state's office said.

The error kept the machines from working and forced Delaware County voters to mark paper ballots from 6 a.m. until all the machines were re-programmed at 8:40 a.m., spokesman A.J. Feeney-Ruiz said. The judge ordered polling places to remain open until 8:40 tonight to ensure a full 12 hours of voting.

In Michigan, voters complained to a telephone hotline of long lines caused by machine failures in parts of Wayne County and Oakland County.

In Camden County, N.J., about 30 out of 700 voting machines were reported out of order.

Cathy Ennis, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, said a relatively small number of the state's 9,200 polling places reported technical problems, including 10 precincts in Allegheny County, where some voters had to cast provisional ballots. In Lebanon County, a judge extended voting until 9 p.m. to make up for problems in the morning, she said.

In Memphis, Republicans complained to the Shelby County Election Commission that an early ballot was cast by someone using the name of Ira Cummings. "We went down to the Health Department and got his death certificate," said Chris Devaney, executive director of the state GOP. "He died on February 17, 2003."

In Ohio, where memories of Election Day foul-ups remain strong from the 2004 presidential election that put President Bush over the top, many voters used electronic voting machines for the first time. Word spread quickly of polling stations that opened late and machines that did not function.

Yet the seriousness of the glitches appeared small, according to election workers and officials in both major political parties. Within a short time, most machines were started or fixed. In eight Cleveland precincts, voters used paper ballots. The telephone system at the Franklin County elections office crashed for 90 minutes under a deluge of calls.

A Democratic operative on a team monitoring the voting process cited problems "but nothing catastrophic." Given the large number of absentee and provisional ballots recorded statewide, elections officials cautioned that winners might not be declared in close races.


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