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High Turnout, New Procedures May Mean an Election Day Mess

In 2004, voters in Columbus, Ohio, waited in long lines to cast ballots. This year, election officials there have added poll workers and voting machines.
In 2004, voters in Columbus, Ohio, waited in long lines to cast ballots. This year, election officials there have added poll workers and voting machines. (By Laura Rauch -- Associated Press)

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That same day, equipment problems in two other Florida jurisdictions delayed results for hours.

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Premier Election Solutions, the company that makes many of the nation's voting machines, last month acknowledged that software used in 34 states, including Virginia and Maryland, could cause votes to be dropped. The company, formerly called Diebold, said it has no fix for the problem now, but election officials can catch the errors and recover the votes through a routine process of double-checking electronic memory cards.

Any weak spots in the process in November, whether poorly trained poll workers, a confusing ballot design or faulty equipment, will be further stressed by turnout, including many first-time voters.

During this year's presidential primaries, the number of voters hit an eight-year high in 36 states, according to Electionline.org, which monitors electoral reforms as part of the Pew Center on the States.

Maryland election officials said Tuesday that they expect 250,000 new voters to register by next month's deadline. More than 280,000 Virginians have registered to vote since the beginning of the year.

In the battleground state of Nevada, there are 400,000 more voters registered than four years ago. More than 500,000 have registered in Indiana since the beginning of the year, prompting Secretary of State Todd Rokita to say this could be "the biggest Election Day in our nation's history in terms of turnout."

Federal officials estimate that 2 million poll workers will be needed to handle the turnout, twice 2004's number and a goal states are scrambling to meet.

New York City had hoped to muster more than its usual 30,000 poll workers, particularly to help voters with disabilities, but extra funds were not available, said Marcus Cederqvist, executive director of the city's Board of Elections. "We will have waits -- I'd guess an hour or maybe two -- but we like to see high turnouts," he said. "It's what we are here for, and let's hope voters keep it in perspective. It won't be like waiting for an iPhone overnight."

Because elections are managed at the local level -- more than 10,000 jurisdictions run voting operations -- there is plenty of opportunity for foul-ups, which can resound nationally.

"Nobody wants to be that county," said Rosemary Rodriguez, chairwoman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, created in 2002 to oversee and enforce nationwide election reform. But, she added, "the biggest fear I have is that elections officials don't heed what they saw in the primary and plan."

After a spate of Election Day problems in Ohio in 2004, when some voters waited in line more than five hours, Franklin County, which includes Columbus, has added poll workers, increased the number of voting machines by 50 percent and commissioned a study on where the machines should go.

Other jurisdictions, including elsewhere in Ohio and several counties in Virginia, are requiring more training of poll workers, from greeters who will walk lines to make sure voters are at the right site to supervisors who must be able to set up and test voting machines.


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