10,000 Special Ballots Being Counted

Voters across the District complained of having to wait for more ballots to be delivered because there were not enough distributed to the precincts.
Voters across the District complained of having to wait for more ballots to be delivered because there were not enough distributed to the precincts. (By Brendan Smialowski -- Getty Images)
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By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2008

About 10,000 people, who could not be found on the voter rolls or were not registered members of a party, submitted special ballots in the District's presidential primary Tuesday, contributing to the ballot shortage that caused long lines and confusion at the polls, the executive director of the Board of Elections and Ethics said yesterday.

The unanticipated turnout and resulting lack of paper ballots drew numerous complaints from voters who had to wait for more ballots to be delivered. Many voters did not understand the city's closed primary system, meaning a voter must be registered with a party to vote, said Alice P. Miller, the executive director.

"Paper ballots were drained by residents who were not eligible to vote in the party primary but nonetheless insisted on voting," she said at a public roundtable yesterday.

The crush of voters wasn't the only cause of the problems.

Poll workers, "scared" of technology, refused to make touch-screen machines available, Miller said. "Some of our workers don't like the electronic machines," she said. "Some of them tried to hide them. . . . They will not be asked to return."

Miller did not give a number during her testimony but said later in an interview that those instances were few.

Miller appeared tired, was hoarse and coughed frequently during the roundtable, which was swiftly set up by D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) in response to the many complaints to her office. Schwartz heads the council Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operations, which oversees the elections board.

As contentious as the ballot problems was the delay in counting and reporting the vote. The polls closed at 8 p.m., but results were not available until 9:28 p.m., according to Miller.

Because of the long lines, voters were lingering at 8 p.m. and the last ballots were not cast until 8:30 p.m., Miller said.

Schwartz said she did not understand how the elections board could not have predicted the crowds, considering the historic nature of the election.

About 40 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Overwhelming support for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) helped spark the unusually high turnout, and he defeated rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) 3 to 1 in a sweep of all 142 precincts. In the Republican race, with a much smaller pool of voters and a lighter turnout of 21 percent, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) won 68 percent of the vote.

Virginia election officials still do not know how many provisional ballots were cast, said Susan Pollard, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Board of Elections.

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