New voting machines and dirty tricks confound voters
Tucson Citizen by DEBORAH HASTINGS, The Associated Press 07 November 2006
New voting machines confounded some poll workers around the country on Election Day, and a combination of electronic glitches and human error forced some precincts to extend voting hours or switch to paper ballots.
More than 80 percent of the nation's voters were expected to cast some type of electronic ballot Tuesday, which was the deadline for major reforms mandated by the federal Help America Vote Act, passed by Congress to prevent a rerun of the 2000 election debacle.
While people in hundreds of precincts waited in long lines, reports of voter intimidation and dirty tricks surfaced in at least three states.
In Arizona, three men, one of them armed, stopped Hispanic voters and questioned them outside a Tucson polling place, according to voting monitors for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which photographed the incidents and reported them to the FBI.
In Maryland, sample ballots misidentifying the party affiliations of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich and Senate candidate Michael Steel were handed out by people bused in from out of state, The Washington Post reported on its Web site.
In Virginia, election officials contacted the FBI over complaints of voter intimidation. Jean Jensen, secretary of the Board of Elections, said her office received reports of phone calls apparently encouraging voters to stay home on Election Day. Other calls directed voters to the wrong polling place.
In another dirty trick controversy, Democrats accused Republicans of sponsoring automated "robo-calls" that have infuriated voters around the country. The recorded calls, which reached a fever pitch in the days leading up to the election, automatically dial and re-redial, promoting or trashing a candidate.
Republicans have denied responsibility. Some voters have reported being awakened in the middle of the night by such calls, and said that after they hung up, the phone rang again. Federal rules bar election phone solicitations after 9 p.m.
In some states, the effort to improve the integrity of the election system got off to a shaky start. Long lines formed, prompting appeals to judges to keep the polls open longer.
In Denver, up to 300 people stood outside some polling sites. One was Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter, who waited an hour and 40 minutes.
"It's actually heartening," he said. It means people "understand the process is important enough to be patient and wait in line." Nonetheless, Democratic Party officials asked a judge to extend poll hours because of the delays.
A long ballot and new machines caused the disruptions, according to Colorado secretary of state spokeswoman Lisa Doran. "Despite the training, some of the election judges are intimidated by the machines," she said.
Computer glitches and poll workers' unfamiliarity with the new equipment were also blamed for long lines in such states as Tennessee, South Carolina and Illinois.
In North Carolina, about 100 voters were left waiting at a church because the poll worker who had the key showed up nearly an hour late. In Pennsylvania, a computer programming error forced some to cast paper ballots. In Indiana, 175 precincts also resorted to paper. Counties in those states also extended poll hours to make up for delays.
As of midday, none of the stumbles seemed to signal a voting disaster, said poll watchers.
"Lots of fender-benders, but no major tie-ups," said Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, a nonpartisan group that tracks election problems. "It's been a steady drumbeat, but nothing that rises to the level of `This could compromise the results."'
Nevertheless, some of the mishaps raised the frustration level.
In Cleveland, where some voters in 2004 waited in 14-hour lines, problems with ballot-reading machines caused big delays. For the first time, all 88 counties used electronic voting - either touch-screens or paper ballots that are electronically scanned.
James Marquart said he walked out without voting after poll workers said his name wasn't on the rolls, even though he was holding a postcard from the elections board that told him which precinct to vote in.
"They did offer me a provisional ballot, but I have absolutely no faith in provisional ballots," he said. Such ballots are only counted if election officials can document the voter's registration.
Activists also feared that last-minute changes in voter identification laws would mean even more confusion.
In Missouri, for example, a judge recently overturned a state law requiring voters to produce a government-issued photo identification. In Kansas City on Tuesday, some voters nevertheless reported being asked for photo ID.
"We've had people saying they were turned away," said Edward Hailes of the Advancement Project, a voting-rights group monitoring polling sites across the country. "We've been trying to contact the board of elections, but the phone lines are jammed."
In Kentucky, a poll worker was arrested after allegedly choking a voter and throwing him out of the polling place. The two had argued over a ballot issue.
"That about tops off the day," said Jefferson County Clerk spokeswoman Paula McCraney.