Election glitches are few

High-tech voting

The Nation Votes 2006

November 08, 2006|By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Noam N. Levey | Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Noam N. Levey,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- In the battleground state of Missouri, Joyce Barger left her injured daughter in a St. Louis hospital and drove 30 miles to vote in the tiny rural town of Cedar Hill, only to be told to come back later because her polling place had run out of ballots.

In Florida, where chaos in the 2000 election triggered a nationwide drive to improve balloting systems, voter lines backed up sporadically when voting machines malfunctioned.

And in South Carolina, poll workers refused to let the governor himself cast a ballot when he arrived at the polls without the documentation required by the state's voter identification law.

Yet despite these and other problems, the most hotly contested midterm elections in a decade appeared to go off with relatively few problems yesterday, especially considering that 90 percent of the nation was using new high-tech systems to cast ballots.

Balky new equipment, human error and other factors caused scattered problems in many parts of the country, but large-scale difficulties appeared to have been rare.

Even South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, was able to cast his ballot after returning home to get the necessary identification.

Both Democratic and GOP election monitors tracked the voting closely, preparing for possible legal challenges if problems developed in any of the battleground races that could determine control of the House and Senate.

In Denver, an experiment with centralized voting in a reduced number of super-sized precincts went awry because of a combination of hours-long lines and equipment failures.

Officials at the federal Election Assistance Commission, created to help the states after the 2000 Florida presidential election debacle, said they were satisfied with the national trend.

"When you look at a situation where we have 183,000 precincts in this country, there have been very, very few problems proportionately," said Thomas R. Wilkey, executive director of the commission.

About one-third of registered voters were using high-tech voting equipment for the first time, according to Election Data Services, a consulting firm that assists the states. Nearly 90 percent of voters cast ballots using either touch-screen machines or optically scanned paper ballots.

High turnout complicated the voting in some places. In Missouri., the precinct at Cedar Hill Lutheran Church ran out of ballots by 10 a.m. because, a local official said, they had failed to anticipate the turnout.

In the Cleveland area, a federal judge ordered that 16 precincts remain open until 9 p.m. to compensate for the problems early in the morning.

Similar problems were reported in Broward County, Fla., north of Miami.

In Pennsylvania, two counties extended voting hours because of different types of technical glitches. And some precincts in Utah opened late because poll workers could not get the machines to work.

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Noam N. Levey write for the Los Angeles Times.

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