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CHAOS: Voting extension denied amid massive computer problems
Denver Post   By George Merritt and Jeffrey Leib  07 November 2006

Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport denied a emergency request from the Democratic Party to keep Denver's voting centers open for an additional two hours this evening due to faulty computers.

Attorney Mark Grueskin, representing the Democrats, had asked the court to extend the voting hours to 9 p.m., because voters were becoming disenfranchised from the numerous incidents of computers crashing and because of the abnormally long lines at the polls.

But attorney Richard Westfall, representing the Republicans, countered that there had been no evidence that voters couldn't go elsewhere to vote or return to the same poll at a later time.

Rappaport told lawyers for both parties she didn't have the authority to keep the polls open, citing case law from the states of Missouri and Arkansas.

Party spokesman Brian Mason said the motion was in response to "the huge problems in Denver this morning."

Westerly Creek, 8800 E. 28th Ave., ran out of provision ballots before noon, and as of 2 p.m., still had none. Voters who were seeking shorter lines arrived, and quickly the line grew to more than a hundred people long.

FairVoteColorado.org reported provisional ballot shortages at numerous other sites as well, including Glenarm Recreation Center, Park Hill Methodist, Manual High School, and Montbello Recreation Center.

Widespread computer problems were reported, some shutting down entire voting centers, but the problems appeared to ease after 2 p.m.

Denver Election Commission spokesman Alton Dillard said there was no systemwide failures and that the delays were being caused by heavy voter turnout combined with "congestion" in the computer network used to confirm voter registeration. "it's our application. It got overloaded," Dillard said.

But voters experienced a wide range of problems, that began right when the polls opened at 7 a.m.

Officials at Manual High School said their computers had crashed three times today. They were running at 2:30, but more than 99 people were in line.

At lunch time, Denver voters waiting in line at the Botanic Gardens vote center were urged to go to Manual's site because the wait at the Gardens might be at least another hour.

When Kim Smith, one of the relocated voters, arrived at Manual, she found a long line that crawled for at least an hour just to get to the door to the school.

Once she got just inside, election officials said the voting process was stopping because of computer problems.

When officials tried to form two lines out of the one stalled line, people started yelling because it put some voters ahead of others who had waited longer, said Smith, who lives in Washington Park.

Election officials did not know how to handle the crowd, Smith said. Shortly after 1 p.m., Denver Police arrived to calm restive voters.

Earlier, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper emerged from inside the Manual voting site and said This can't happen again, recalled Smith, who finally voted around 1:30, nearly two hours after she arrived at the Denver school.

Vaishali Patel, who lives in Denver s Capitol Hill neighborhood, arrived at her voting center near East Eight Avenue and Downing Street after 11 a.m. and was told the wait would be two hours. She was urged to go to the Botanic Gardens site.

There, officials told her the wait also would be two hours and she was urged to go the Manual.

Like Smith, she arrived at the Denver school a little before noon and endured nearly two hours of lines moving in fits and starts before she reached the voting booth.

I feel like I have to; I made it this far, Patel said, when she was about 20 people away from the booth.

As of 2:15 p.m., the line at the Botanic Gardens was just as long as it was this morning, snaking down the street to 11th Ave.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter waited an hour and a half to vote at the Washington Park Recreational Center this morning. When he arrived at about 7:45 a.m., there were more than 150 people in line ahead of him. Several people said they were frustrated by the long lines. Paul Barsa, a 35-year-old who said he works in accounting, said he was "grouchy" and wished that he waited until the afternoon to vote.

Ritter said, "I hope that people will be patient. It's important for them to vote."

The Denver Election Commission reported that problems began right at 7 a.m. as computer problems at the voter-check in stations bogged down, creating a bottleneck in the first hour of voting as a rush to the polls overloaded the system.

Power failures slowed voting at some locations, commission spokesman Dillard said.

Voting machines had backup power and weren't affected, but laptop computers used to verify voter registration were knocked out, forcing workers to call the central office for the information, he said.

Mark Coles, a computer technician with the Denver Election Commission, said the election system had to be split onto three separate servers to handle the backlog.

"It's just like traffic on (Interstate) 25," Coles said. "It's as if we are building two more I-25s right next to it" to ease the traffic congestion.

But the fix did not come in time to help some voters who hoped to vote before heading to work.

At Denver Botanic Gardens, a line several hundred voters long stretched out of the gates and down the block more than half way to 11th Avenue.

"We will not get to vote today," said a frustrated Lauren Brockman as he left the Botanic Gardens.

He lined up at 6:45 a.m. hoping to beat the rush, only to stand in line for close to an hour before leaving.

But an hour wait was short, compared to some.

At Corona Presbyterian Church, voters were being told to expect about a two-hour wait as they snaked around the building.

"All my friends, I told them to vote between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.," said Rob Weil the election judge supervisor at Corona. "But if it keeps being this slow, this line will stay."

Several people left the line at Park Hill Methodist Church after they were told equipment was broken.

Lines of up to 300 people formed at some Denver polling places.

This is positively ridiculous, said 82-year-old Jack McCroskey, clutching his cane while waiting at the Washington Park polling place in southeast Denver. At 82, I don't deserve to have to stand out here. What if it had been 10 degrees today?"

Johnson Recreation Center at 4809 Race St. in Denver reported all its voting machines were down at 1:15 p.m.. "I'm just waiting on my IT man to call me back," said Nathan Martinez, the center's election supervisor. Service was restored by 1:45 p.m. During that time his line grew from just a handful to over a hundred.

Augustana Lutheran, 5000 E Alameda Ave., also reported its machines out of service at 1:15 p.m., with no estimated time for repair. By 1:50 p.m., a secretary said the machines were working but wasn't able to provide details.

As of 2 p.m., Tattered Cover Lodo's voting line was about an hour long, and machines were working.

At the Athmar Recreation Center in southwest Denver, polling station manager Frank Lujan said the voting computer system was down twice today, once for about 30 minutes and once for about 45 minutes. As of 2 p.m., the system was running and voters report wait times of about 45 minutes.

"Any time you have new technology you have challenges," Mayor John Hickenlooper said, at midday, just before the system began experiencing even wider outages. "We've got dozens of city employees out volunteering asking people if they want a lift to a vote center with a shorter line." Hickenlooper conceded the situation "is not good."

The problems weren't limited to Denver. On the Post's West Watch blog, Karen A. reported waiting two hours and 45 minutes in Parker at Southeast Christian Church. "Sometimes 10 of the 12 voting booths were unoccupied while voters were processed," she said.

In Douglas County, where wait times at some places extended to three hours, the Republican Party had not yet decided whether to file an injuction to keep the polls open, said spokesman Bryant Adams.

At 1:30 p.m., Secretary of State Gigi Dennis released a statement saying that things were going smoothly, statewide, and saying that voters should not count on the Denver court extending voting hours.

"Please do not depend on polls being kept open late," Dennis wrote. "If you are at the polls by 7 p.m. you will cast a ballot. All voters in line will be able to vote."

She advised voters to be prepared for an after-work surge at the polls.

Staff writer George Merritt can be reached at 303-954-1657 or gmerritt@denverpost.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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