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Polling Glitches Plague Voters Throughout California
NBC11 November 8, 2006

Glitches plagued polling stations throughout the state Tuesday, causing problems from 7 a.m. until the last hour of voting. But officials said the problems were minor and not out of the ordinary.

Polling stations opened late in San Joaquin County and in Orange County, where electronic voting machines malfunctioned and poll workers ran out of English-language paper ballots used as backups.

Meanwhile, fewer than 100 voters in a Santa Clara County precinct had to cast their votes by marking sample ballots for about an hour, after five e-voting machines malfunctioned.

Other California voters complained of last-minute polling station address changes, and other complained of long lines and confused poll workers.

Despite those concerns, California election officials who were bracing for serious problems because of newly deployed voting technology in numerous counties said voting throughout the state had gone relatively smoothly. Officials noted that California was largely free of worrisome reports of voter intimidation and technology meltdowns that marred elections in other states.

A federal judge in Cleveland, for example, ordered 16 Cuyahoga County polling locations stay open 90 minutes past the scheduled 7:30 p.m. close because of delays caused by voting machine problems and hour-long lines.

"There were some normal election day issues with polls opening late," said California Secretary of State spokeswoman Nghia Nguyen. "But there haven't been any major problems reported with the machines."

But for some voter advocates, business-as-usual wasn't good enough in an election that will determine the balance of Congress.

"There are chronic problem with voting that can greatly erode voter confidence," said Kim Alexander, president of the watchdog group California Voter Foundation. "Just because it's not worse than last election doesn't make it all right."

The likelihood of a record absentee vote, coupled with a new federal law requiring counties to have at least some electronic voting machines on hand, had election officials preparing for the worst.

"If anyone thinks you are going to have a perfect election, they aren't thinking rationally," Kern County Registrar Ann Barnett said.

Four of California's 58 counties Alameda, Santa Cruz, Nevada and San Mateo have entirely new voting systems in place.

With more electronic gear deployed than ever before, many registrars listed power failure as their top concern. They also had the perennial concerns: poll worker punctuality, proper postage on thick absentee ballots, and fully functioning equipment.

California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson ordered counties to have enough backup paper ballots on hand in case of electronic voting meltdowns.

McPherson predicted voter turnout of around 55 percent, and his office stuck by that number late Tuesday. That's a 5 percent increase from 2002, the last regularly scheduled governor's race, but it's far below the 76 percent turnout of the 2004 presidential race and 61 percent during the 2003 gubernatorial recall.

Tuesday's vote likely will set a record for absentee voters.

McPherson predicted 44 percent of voters will cast mail-in ballots. That would break the previous record set during the 2005 special election, when absentee voting reached 40 percent.

In many counties, registrars said the percentage of absentee ballots would top 50 percent.

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