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Machine malfunctions, voter intimidation reported (MI)
The Detroit News. November 4, 2008. byy Doug Guthrie, Santiago Esparza and Tom Greenwood

Reports of voting problems have poured into election watchdog groups, mostly from voter machine malfunctions and long lines from what is expected will be a record turnout.

Dearborn's City Clerk Kathleen Buda reassigned an elderly poll worker at Precinct 8, Maples Elementary School, after receiving complaints that he was intimidating Muslim voters. A woman in the clerk's office said the incident was a misunderstanding.

The man, whom the clerk's office declined to identify, is in his late 80s and has served as a long-time poll volunteer without previous complaint. But, he is hard of hearing and was "rude" to voters, according to a woman in the clerk's office. The man was given a different job at the polls this afternoon with less voter contact.

The NAACP reports malfunctioning voter machines in 10 Michigan precincts statewide have caused long waits and in some cases, people gave up waiting and left without voting.

The NAACP said it had received more than 12,000 reports of voter irregularities nationwide before noon, mostly due to faulty or inadequate voting equipment. The group also had received 115 complaints nationally of alleged voter intimidation.

By 2 p.m., OurVoteLive.org had reported 500 concerns from Wayne County, including 105 reports of problems with voting equipment, long lines, voter registration and complaints about poll workers and access to voting places. The overall concerns reported also included routine questions about polling place locations.

Precinct 8 at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Ecorse had equipment problems. The precinct's voting tabulator stopped worked early this afternoon, forcing poll workers to wait for a technician to come from Detroit to fix it. Voters slipped their ballots in a slot inside the machine to be scanned after the tabulator was fixed.

"I'm mad, hot and sweating but there's nothing I can do," said Precinct Chairperson Carol Riggs. "But I won't turn people away."

OurVoteLive.org reported 38 problems in Oakland County and 14 in Macomb.

"Michigan is high on our list of trouble spots right now for a wide variety of reasons," said Nell McGarity, a spokeswoman for OurVoteLive.org in Washington D.C.

OurVoteLive.org, is a web site that compiles difficulty reports from voter watchdog groups, with an estimated 10,000 poll-watching volunteers throughout the nation. The site was organized by the non-partisan Electronic Frontier Foundation. Reports come from individuals and organizations like the NAACP and ALCU.

In Oakland County, the accuracy of the county's voting machines in four communities was called into question Tuesday as a letter surfaced from County Clerk Ruth Johnson written to the Election Assistance Commission two weeks ago.

In it, Johnson said four communities in Oakland County had had problems with their M-100 voting tabulators during testing. The same ballots, run through the same machines, yielded different results, Johnson wrote.

"As I became aware of local clerks' concerns, I immediately notified the appropriate election officials regarding those concerns," Johnson said in a brief statement issued today. "To date, we have not received a response from those offices. We do have a plan of action that in the event of a recount and close races, ballots will be recounted by hand."

Johnson didn't detail what communities had problems. She asked the Election Assistance Commission for a federal directive or law to allow county clerks to conduct random audits to ensure each voting tabulator's accuracy.

Police in Pontiac arrested one voter who had an outstanding warrant. An officer spotted the felon in line to vote and pulled him out, said a police spokesman who called it an isolated incident.

Long lines were also a common sight at polls throughout Metro Detroit.

At Chrysler Elementary School on Detroit's east side, a line stretched out of the building as it did in many other precincts throughout the region.

Luningning Gutierrez Sanpedro did not mind the wait. She said voting is something everyone should do.

"I am here because of the proposals and the president (race)," she said. "The line is long now, but it was longer earlier this morning. It stretched around the corner."

At Ferndale High School, the wait was about two hours, while voters at Central Methodist Church in Detroit were given tickets so they could hold their spaces in line for the expected one-hour wait. Voters in Macomb County saw lines move fairly quickly.

At least one voter felt disenfranchised after showing up to the polls and being denied the opportunity to vote.

After waiting in line for more than two hours, starting at 6 a.m., Leroy Gatewood Jr. was turned away from the 17th Precinct in Redford after being told his name was not registered to vote.

After going home and retrieving his voter registration card, Gatewood, 21, was once again told he could not vote because his address did not match the one on his driver's license.

"I'm disappointed, very disappointed," said Gatewood, who was attempting to vote in his first presidential election. "This is a big election. I want my voice to be heard. I want to have an opinion, a say in how my country goes."

Instead, he plans to spend his day encouraging others to vote, one of the lessons drilled into him by his father, Leroy Gatewood Sr.

"That was one of the strong things in my household," his father said. "You're going to vote. He did everything he should have done in order to vote."

Some precincts reported no problems, with lines moving quickly.

Voting has been smooth sailing for voters in Macomb County, said County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh, who spent the morning traveling to various precincts.

"There have been some lines but they aren't usually long," she said. "We haven't heard of any big debacle. Usually if there is something the local clerks give us a call."

The county saw its registered voters increase by 23,000 to 611,000 since January. Even with that increase the use of absentee voting has helped to keep the crowds moving steady at the polls, Sabaugh said. About 114,000 residents requested absentee ballots and about 98,000 were submitted as of about 2 p.m.

There were a few other factors Sabaugh said contributed to the smooth election.

"People are coming in a little more prepared with their registration card and I.D." she said. "The polls have good signage so people know where they're going. The optical scan system that we have in place works really well. The general election is going better than the primary because you can split your ticket. A lot of times people spoil a ballot and it kicks it back out."

Lenora Smith, 60, was the first in line to vote at Kantner Early Childhood Center in Eastpointe. She arrived at 5 a.m. and waited about an hour before other voters arrived.

"This was something important. When I want to do something, I'd rather be early than late," she said.

Smith was the first among a steady stream of voters at the center to vote in the presidential election as well as on local issues.

"The United States needs a lot of help," said Smith, who voted for Barack Obama. "I think this is the right time to get someone else to do a different job. Maybe it'll be a lot better."

Aaron Whittaker, a 45-year-old Australia native who now lives in Grosse Pointe, said he backs McCain.

"I voted for McCain because I don't like Obama's tax policies. I don't think he has the experience to meet the problems of these tough economic times. Since I have been in the United States, I have seen Sen. McCain involved in all kinds of committees. I have seen him go against his own party. He is more for the people than the party line."

Today's presidential election was Whittaker's first in the United States and the implications of his vote were not lost on him.

"This is the first time I voted in a presidential election, and it is a historic one," he said. "I am honored to be involved in helping to pick the government, which will see us through these tough times. I think most people don't realize what an honor and privilege it is to have a say in how the country is run."


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