Voters Persevere Despite Ballot Shortages, Lines

Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. residents discuss who they voted for in Tuesday's Potomac Primary. Video by Nancy Donaldson and Whitney Shefte/washingtonpost.comEditor: Jonathan Forsythe/
By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

As icy weather descended on the region late yesterday, Maryland gave voters an extra 90 minutes to reach the polls, while Virginia and the District shut down on time.

In Virginia, exit polls estimated that nearly one-third of registered voters turned out yesterday, a state record in a presidential primary. In the District, nearly three times as many voters cast ballots as in the 2004 primary. Maryland officials, meanwhile, projected turnout of about 39 percent, nearly equal to the record set in 1992.

Across the region, precincts ran out of ballots, and there were hour-long waits at many polling places. Late in the day, weather-related road closures left at least some people unable to vote.

Faridon Mohtashemi left work in Crystal City an hour early, then sat in traffic for more than two hours, arriving at Hayfield Secondary school in Fairfax County at 7:03 p.m., three minutes after closing time.

"It's very disheartening that they couldn't extend the hours," said Mohtashemi, who had planned to vote for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

In Maryland, after receiving complaints about road conditions for several hours, the State Board of Elections obtained a court order at 7 p.m., an hour before that state's closing time, to extend voting hours.

Judge Ronald A. Silkworth wrote that he extended the hours "to provide a remedy that is in the public interest and protects the integrity of the electoral process."

Only provisional ballots were cast after 8 p.m., and they will not be counted for a week. Even so, the margins of victory for Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appeared so decisive that uncounted ballots were unlikely to change the outcome. Some local contests, however, might yet hinge on those ballots.

Late yesterday, Maryland's elections board said that some jurisdictions were having difficulty delivering results to central locations because of poor driving conditions. Counting was to resume today.

The extension was welcomed by Ann-Marie Wildman, 43, of Largo. She pulled off the Beltway about 8 p.m., certain that she had missed her chance to vote. An accident on Interstate 395 and slippery roads had delayed her. "And then a couple of minutes later, they extended the hours," she said as she left Largo-Kettering Library after casting her ballot.

The weather was the one thing officials knew was out of their control as they prepared to accommodate yesterday's expected high voter turnout. What they could control, they tried feverishly to manage, juggling sporadic problems with voter registration, occasional machine malfunctions, overflowing parking lots and, in some places, shortages of paper ballots.

In Arlington County, some voters waited two hours. "It's never been this busy in my memory," said John Mazzella, 39, who waited with about 60 people at St. George's Parish Hall.

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