Confusion delays reigned at many District of Columbia voting precincts yesterday, as voters coped with a bewildering array of ballots, inadequate instructions and what for many were newfangled voting machines that sometimes did not work.
Long lines of anxious voters were backed up at many precincts throughout the city long after the polls were to have closed at 8 p.m. Voters in some precincts left in disgust after waiting for more than an hour to cast ballots, while others appeared resigned to delays and determined to vote. Harried poll workers fumbled with clumsy new voter identification card printout books. Others struggled to explain to perplexed voters which ballots to use and which ones to discard.
"Forget it, I just can't wait," said Karen McGill, 25, a teacher, as she walked away in disgust from Precinct 25, Goodwill Baptist Church, Kalorama and Columbia Roads NW.
"It was a universal mess," said Wendy Schaetzl, who did stay at the church until she voted.
While precincts throughout the city were plagued with problems, ballot counting at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics central office in the District Building appeaared to go smoothly throughout the night -- once the ballots were brought in. This was in sharp contrast to the chaotic and confused tabulations of some past elections in the city.
Voters at the polls yesterday used a relatively new punch-style voting machine called Datavote. Though this was the third election in which the Datavote system has been used here, it was the first time many voters had encountered it.
Some were confused by it. Others found several of the machines broken.
"Two of the machines would not punch holes when I pushed the lever." said Mike Olshousen, a voter at Precinct 25. "I finally had to go to a third machine, which worked."
At the Garfield School precinct at 25th Street and Alabama Avenue Se, one middle-aged woman took 20 minutes to vote, going back to poll workers three time to ask questions about the ballots she had been given.
Many Democratic voters seemed confused by the three separate presidential preference ballots -- one each for Jimmy Carter, Edward M. Kennedy and Lyndon H. LaRouche -- each with a laundry list of supporting candidates as delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer.
"We have (had) to explain to them that the Carter delegates can't help Kennedy, and the Kennedy delegates can't help LaRouche," said Precinct 69 captain Barnett.
"A couple of people have gotten disgusted and we've had to do the whole thing for them," she said. "The whole thing has been a mess."
Many precinct workers complained that the new computerized "books" containing voter identification cards were clumsy and awkward to handle, thus slowing voter processing.
Delores Woods, deputy elections administrator, said late yesterday that the book system will be abandoned in the City Council primary on Sept. 9 and precinct workers will resume using the traditional boxes containing individual voter cards in duplicate.
There were other scattered complaints fo irregularities.
Olshausen in Precinct 25 said the ballot clerk removed ballots of several voters from their "secrecy" sleeves -- a thin plastic sheath covering the marked ballots -- before putting the ballots in the ballot box. The voters themselves normally hold the "secrecy" sleeve and let the ballots fall into the box.
"It's not a secret ballot, the way they were doing it," Olshausen said.
In another incident, Marcy Powers, a Republican voter in Precinct One at Terrell Junior High School, First and Pierce streets NW, was turned away when poll workers mistakenly told her that all GOP candidates had withdrawn from the primary.
Powers complained to election officials downtown. Deputy Elections Administrator Woods drove to the precinct, explained to the workers that only John Anderson and Phillip Crane had withdrawn from the race, and instructed the workers to let Powers vote.