PROBLEMS ON ELECTION DAY
Courts Weigh In After Voting Difficulties Emerge at the Polls
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
Voting glitches in at least a dozen states marred yesterday's election, including difficulties getting voting machines to work, confusion about voters' eligibility and sporadic accusations of vote fraud or intimidation.
The troubles delayed the opening of polling sites and created long lines in some precincts of nearly every region of the country. They prompted courts in eight states on the East Coast and in the Midwest to extend polling hours last evening, and caused election officials elsewhere to give out provisional ballots.
Still, no catastrophic problem had emerged by late last night to imperil the validity of any race, according to nonpartisan election experts and polling observers across the ideological spectrum.
"I don't think there was any complete meltdown of the system anywhere. Democracy survived," said Tova Wang, an elections specialist at the nonpartisan Century Foundation. "But if you look at the country overall . . . there were certainly a lot of problems."
Election specialists cautioned that even small problems could influence the outcome of especially close contests. A complete portrait of how the voting went will not become clear until today or later, when election boards evaluate what could be a record number of absentee ballots, as well as the provisional ballots.
The problems bore out warnings in recent weeks by election administration experts, who had predicted that poll workers and voters could be confused by updated voting technology and procedures.
The most serious flaws appeared to be in Denver, where residents faced two-hour lines at some polling places because of computer problems and a shortage of election judges. Colorado's Democratic Party filed a lawsuit seeking to keep polls open an extra two hours, but a Denver district court judge refused, saying it would be improper to change the rules in only one part of the state.
The chaotic atmosphere there came in the first election since Denver officials tried to make the voting system more efficient by merging hundreds of traditional precincts into 55 regional voting centers. The strategy backfired yesterday when the database of registered voters crashed and, Democrats say, hundreds of voters were turned away.
Colorado's troubles were among many instances in which problems surfaced as a result of changes that legislatures and election boards have made to their election systems. Two years after the disputed 2000 presidential election, Congress adopted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which devoted $3 billion to improve election procedures. The law required states to get rid of antiquated lever and punch-card machines, ensure that all voters were legitimate and count votes more accurately. This year was the deadline for states to comply with most of those requirements.
As a result, one-third of U.S. voters used new voting machines yesterday. A dozen states adopted new rules requiring voters to present various forms of identification at the polls. Every state also has been required to create a statewide database of eligible voters.
Two nationwide voter hotlines -- a coalition of civil rights groups and a project of the University of Pennsylvania -- said last night that they had received complaints about all those new systems.
Places where problems proved so tumultuous that judges agreed to extend voting hours included counties in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Wisconsin.