Faulty touch screens, failing lights, and confusion over a new voter ID law in Virginia were among the mishaps that voters faced Tuesday at the polls.
After the polls closed, more technical glitches hampered anyone looking to follow the outcome of a surprisingly close Senate race in Virginia between Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Warner and Republican challenger Ed Gillespie. Within an hour after voting ended, the Virginia Department of Elections website was overwhelmed and the agency began referring Internet users to sites operated by Politico and the Virginia Public Access Project that rely on direct feeds of the state’s election results data.
Most of the problems voters encountered throughout the day Tuesday were minor. The most dramatic involved faulty touch-screen voting machines in Newport News and Virginia Beach. U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), sent an e-mail to supporters Tuesday claiming that voters in more than 40 precincts reported that when they selected the incumbent’s name, his opponent’s name popped up instead.
“In my more than two decades of being involved in the political process, I have never seen such a systemic failure of our voting machines here in Hampton Roads,” Rigell said in the e-mail.
The congressman said his campaign would seek a court order to get the Virginia Department of Elections to switch to paper ballots. But the department did not do so because the request came in 13 minutes before polls closed, spokeswoman Rose Mansfield said. “There was no way that action could have been completed before closing,” she said.
Mansfield said the problem occurred in 32 machines in about 25 precincts in the Virginia Beach area. There were separate reports early Tuesday about problems with voting machines that used an extra-large font to display candidates’ names. The reduced space between the lines caused some voters to hit the wrong name. Mansfield said the problem was corrected.
Tuesday marked the first time Virginia voters were required to present a valid photo ID, leading to some confusion, poll monitors said. Poll workers had to first confirm that the voter was the person pictured on the ID presented and then ask for verbal confirmation of the street address used to register to vote. But some poll workers mistakenly asked for documentation of the voter’s address, said Hope Amezquita, staff attorney and legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. Other times, acceptable forms of identification, such as a U.S. passport, were passed over and the voters were not offered a provisional ballot — contrary to Department of Elections guidelines.
By early afternoon, Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of Virginia New Majority, said calls to the group’s hotline indicated the new law was not being applied consistently across the state, but it had not received any reports of voters being denied the right to vote due to improper identification.
In the District, the D.C. Board of Elections voter guide that arrived in voters’ mailboxes sporting an upside-down District flag proved to be something of an omen. A glitch with the city’s new e-poll books led to confusion at one Capitol Hill precinct, with as many as 60 voters having to submit provisional ballots that will not be counted for several days.
The new e-poll books, which resemble small laptops, are supposed to come preloaded with each precinct’s voter names, addresses and other identifiable information. At Precinct 130 a block from the Supreme Court, poll workers received two devices with information for a different precinct, but did not at first realize it.
As they began to check in waiting voters, some with kids in tow on their way to school and work, the first several dozen voters were told that they were not properly registered and would have to fill out special ballots.
The backup infuriated some longtime Capitol Hill residents.
“As they say, I took the heat,” said Precinct Captain Yvonne Baskerville. “It was a rough couple hours, but it got better.” Baskerville pegged the number of ballots set aside as provisional at 30, although another poll worker suggested it might have been 60.
Baskerville, who has run the precinct for 22 years, said she couldn’t get too upset. “Every year I quit this job,” she said. “There’s always something.”
At Davis Elementary in Southeast, thieves made off with four polling books, law enforcement authorities said. The break-in at the school, located in the 4400 block of H Street SE, was discovered just after 5 a.m., when the precinct captain arrived to set up, D.C. Board of Elections spokeswoman Denise Tolliver said. The board quickly replaced the books and voting commenced at 7 a.m.
At Tyler Elementary School on Capitol Hill, the electric lighting wasn’t working. As the sun set, precinct captain Paul Teicher said elections workers were told they would have to turn everything off — including voting machines — so the lights could be fixed. Volunteers put out some lamps and moved the paper ballot booths to the stage, where the lights were functioning. One man joked, “When does the middle-school dance begin?”
Mary Pat Flaherty, Peter Hermann, Justin Jouvenal and Susan Svrluga contributed to this report.