By Mary Pat Flaherty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Voters in two small New Hampshire towns cast the first Election Day ballots minutes after midnight this morning, starting off a day that experts say could be marked by delays in getting voters to the polls and in getting ballot counts out by the end of the day.
More than 29 million Americans have locked in their choices during early and absentee voting, relieving some of the pressure on election officials. Still, roughly 100 million voters are predicted to show up at the polls today, in many cases facing voting machines they have never used before.
Locally and elsewhere along the southeastern seaboard, voters are likely to encounter rainfall, but there were no forecasts of storms or extreme cold that could discourage some from venturing out to the polls.
Campaign staffers for Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama said yesterday that they were expecting good results and a good experience for voters, but both camps also brought up complaints and accusations about voting. Republican concerns have primarily centered on fraudulent voter registrations, while the main worry for Democrats has been that eligible voters may not get to cast regular ballots.
Spokesmen for both campaigns said they would not shy away from heading to court on Election Day to challenge a problem at the polls, but they also said they would be restrained in picking court battles.
"Ideally, everyone will be able to vote once and vote fairly," McCain spokesman Ben Porritt said yesterday.
"We're feeling good that [today] Americans who want to vote will be able to do so without a hassle," said Jenny Backus, a strategist with Obama's legal team.
Nationwide, teams of observers will be out in force. In Florida, the Obama team has 5,000 lawyers as volunteers, said Charles Lichtman of Fort Lauderdale, who is coordinating the legal effort in the state. The AFL-CIO has more than 500 poll monitors ready in each of the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
And the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division will send 800 observers and staff members to 59 jurisdictions in 23 states, including in Chesterfield County, Va., where voters said ballot shortages and delays kept them from voting in the presidential primaries.
Voting rights groups said they had received a smattering of complaints about misleading fliers or telephone calls directing voters to incorrect polling places, particularly in Virginia and western Pennsylvania.
"But it is hard to know this early whether that is nefarious or someone well-intentioned making an honest mistake," said Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The overriding question was how long voters may have to wait today.
Election officials in Georgia and Florida extended early-voting hours through the weekend, but there were still back-ups of eight hours in some spots. Early voters at a Tempe, Ariz., library waited several hours for their names to be called to go inside, then waited two hours for a spot at a voting booth.
No such worries in northern New Hampshire, where registered voters in Dixville Notch cast ballots in a matter of minutes just after midnight. Obama carried the town with 15 votes, while McCain took six. Obama also won the nearby town of Hart's Location, with 17 votes to McCain's 10 and write-in candidate Ron Paul's two.
Election officials in Colorado and Washington state were among those cautioning that their returns may stretch into tomorrow because of high turnout, the volume of mail-in ballots yet to arrive, and lengthy ballots with closely contested congressional, state and local races.
In Broward County, Fla., the elections board was appealing yesterday for technicians to help with voting equipment on Election Day. In Wisconsin, officials still were not certain how successful their appeal to find poll workers had been. Paychecks delivered last month to 30,000 Wisconsin government workers included a flier asking them to volunteer to work at the polls.
In Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta, a printing error on absentee ballots means that the votes marked on as many as 19,000 of the ballots will have to be hand-copied onto new ballots.
Beginning at 9 a.m. today in a locked room, under the watchful eyes of security guards and observers from several political parties, 185 workers will transfer the votes from the flawed ballots -- which had misshapen ovals beside candidates' names -- onto corrected paper ballots that can be read by tallying equipment. The problem was not detected until voters began returning the ballots.
"We think we have it under control and can be done by 5 p.m.," said county spokesman Joe Sorenson.