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District Voters Line Up at Polls  (DC)

Michael E. Ruane     Washington Post    12 February 2008

Amid wintry weather and heavy turnout, District voters and election officials reported problems with ballots and voting machines today as residents thronged to make their choices in the city's historic primary election.
Reports of ballot shortages and malfunctioning voting machines began early in the day and continued into the afternoon.

William R. O'Field Jr., spokesman for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, said the city was experiencing a high voter turnout compared to past presidential primaries, leading to a number of problems at the polls. The number of ballots supplied to polling sites was based on past election turnouts, he said.

Several polling sites were running low on ballots, he said. "We're now looking at all precincts to see what they will need for the evening rush," he said.

Some polling sites were also dealing with jammed machines, which were caused when ballot clerks failed to properly tear the stubs off paper ballots fed to the machines to be counted, O'Field said.

Voters were encouraged to use touch-screen machines to avoid the problem, but O'Field said poll workers were also being told how to correctly tear the ballots so they would not break the machines.

One voter, Susan Herold, said when she went to vote about 12:30 p.m., the machine that scanned ballots at the Sherwood Recreation Center, at 10th and G streets NE, appeared broken.

"There was a whole stack of paper ballots," she said in a telephone interview. "They were just taking them from people, but they weren't scanning them because apparently there was only one scanner there and it was broken."

Herold, who said she voted for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), said she asked an official whether the ballots would be counted. "He just kind of shrugged," she said. "It didn't seem real clear. We would hope they would be counted."

Elsewhere, according to voters and one precinct official, turnout was so high that some polling places ran out of ballots.

Neil Scott, the precinct captain at Stuart-Hobson Middle School on Capitol Hill, said the turnout was extremely high for both parties, so much so that the precinct ran out of Republican ballots about three hours after voting began.

Normally, in the District, "you sort of have to fish for the Republicans," he said. "And here they are, jumping into the boat."

By noon, 71 Republicans had voted far outstripping the 50 paper ballots provided for voters of that party.
In addition, the precinct's machines for receiving paper ballots broke down twice, and an auxiliary bin for holding ballots that had been cast but not processed overflowed. At one point, poll workers stacked ballots that had been cast on top of a piano.

Scott said that the problems were temporary and that once the machines were fixed, poll workers ran the accumulating ballots through the machines.

David Pardo, a volunteer poll watcher at Stuart-Hobson for the Obama campaign, said: "There's no hint of any wrongdoing. It's just chaos."

Officials also ran out of paper ballots for Democratic voters at Watkins Elementary School, at 12th and E streets SE, according to another voter.

The woman, who said she did not want her name used, said she was told that heavy turnout in the morning used up all of the Democrats' paper ballots. Later voters were directed to the site's lone electronic voting machine, the woman said in a telephone interview.

She said many voters who showed up at the school were senior citizens and had trouble with the electronic machines. "It just seemed ridiculous," she said. "I had to have help to use it, and so did" others.

At Metropolitan AME Church on M Street NW, the ballot-counting machine broke down. Edgar R.M. Frazier, the precinct captain, said Board of Elections officials brought another one "within 40 minutes."

He said the mishap didn't keep people from voting. Their completed ballots were ed into a special box, to be removed later and run through the counting machine.

Turnout was "way beyond expectations," Frazier said. By 2:30 p.m., he had already had election officials deliver three additional boxes of ballots, and he said he would probably need more.

About 1,600 people had voted at the church by 2:30 p.m., roughly the same as voted the entire day in the primary election in 2004, he said.

Across the city under cold gray skies on Abraham Lincoln's actual birthday, citizens in hats, scarves, gloves and overcoats lined up to cast their votes in the District's part of the "Potomac Primary."

Many in the heavily Democratic District reported voting for Obama, saying the country needs radical change. Others said they voted for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) because it was past time for a woman in the White House.
Beritu Haile-Selassie, 55, who said she emigrated from Ethiopia 36 years ago, said she voted for Obama but was so torn that she wished there was some combination of the two candidates. "If I could find somebody who was half Clinton and half Obama, that would have been the best way of voting," she said after casting her ballot at the Metropolitan AME Church.

At the Mount Pleasant Library, 1606 Lamont St. NW, Nelson Canales, 44, said he voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). "It's my duty to vote even though in the city my vote hardly counts, because I voted for McCain," he said.

He said he believes that the former Vietnam War POW is an honest man who doesn't vote for special interests. Canales is originally from El Salvador.

"I'm a Republican because it was [President Ronald] Reagan and George [H.W.] Bush that gave me the amnesty and I became a citizen. What have the Democrats done? Nothing. Voting Republican, that's the least I can do. I feel loyal to the Republican Party, plus I'm a conservative. I'm not going to deny it."

Insults and snowflakes were flying at the LaSalle Elementary School, on Riggs Road NE.

Janet Liriano, a Maryland real estate agent, waded through a sea of Obama signs to plant a few Hillary placards in the school lawn.

"Hey! Not too many of those here!" one of the Obama supporters yelled. Liriano continued planting the placards, and chuckled.

"I had to come and show support out here, too," she said.

The polling place was the liveliest that Yinusa Yusuff52, had seen in years.

"Young people especially are really coming out today," said Yusuff, who has volunteered there for the past 15 years.

As voters filed in, they exchanged greetings and high fives with the Obama campaign team outside, saying to each other: "Let's make history."

Obama himself campaigned for District votes when he visited a Dunkin' Donuts about 9 a.m. and then waded into a group of sign-waving supporters near the Eastern Market Metro station.

Well-wishers gathered around, snapping cellphone pictures as television cameras and photographers pressed in. Obama was accompanied by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who at one point raised an Obama pamphlet and yelled: "D.C. for Obama!" The crowd cheered in reply.

Among those waving Obama signs was Apriel Hodari, 41, a research analyst who is working as the Obama precinct captain in Ward 6. She said she was drawn to the Illinois senator because she had relatives who were among the working poor.

"He's had to live on $12,000 a year," she said. "He knows what those choices are."

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