By Deborah Hastings / AP
New York: Voting problems surfaced in several areas Tuesday when people turned out in droves as presidential balloting commenced in the eastern United States, as long lines and malfunctioning machines greeted voters.
Americans have kept a close eye on election problems recently. In 2000, the results of the election were held up until the US Supreme Court ultimately decided to halt a recount over contested votes in Florida, leaving George W. Bush the winner.
In Ohio, there was turmoil in 2004 over malfunctioning machines and long lines.
On Tuesday, voters had to use paper ballots because of problems with electronic voting machines in some New Jersey precincts.
And in New York, Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez-Rivera said many people began lining up as early as 4 a.m. (0900 GMT) at some polling places to avoid long lines, leading to erroneous reports that some sites were not opening on time.
Poll worker John Ritch in Chappaqua, New York, said: “By 7:30 this morning, we had as many as we had at noon in 2004.”
Gov. Ed Rendell urged voters in Pennsylvania to “hang in there” as state and country officials braced for a huge turnout.
More than 160 people were lined up to vote by the time polls opened at First Presbyterian Church in Allentown. “I could stay an hour and a half at the front end or three hours at the back end,” joked Ronald Marshall, a black Democrat.
Hundreds converged on polling precincts in Missouri, a crucial battleground state. Norma Storms, a 78-year-old resident of Raytown, said her driveway was filled with cars left by voters who couldn’t get into nearby parking lots.
“I have never seen anything like this in all my born days,” she said. “I am just astounded.”
In Virginia, where a Democrat has not won the presidential race since 1964, several counties experienced paper jams and balky touch-screen devices. In Richmond, a precinct opening was delayed because the person who had the keys overslept. Hundreds of people swarming the branch library cheered when its doors finally opened.
Ohio, which experienced extreme voting problems in the last presidential race, had some jammed paper problems in Franklin County. “We’re taking care of things like that,” said elections spokesman Ben Piscitelli. “But there’s nothing major or systemic.”
In the West, Californians also faced long lines, but voting went smoothly. In Orange County, south of Los Angeles, about 400 people were on hand to treat problems with the county’s all-electronic voting system, said Brett Rowley of the registrar’s office.
“We’ve got paper ballots as a backup,” he said.
Heavy rain plunged a handful of Los Angeles polling places into the dark, forcing some to move voting booths outside until electricity was restored. Voting didn’t stop.
Lawsuits alleging voter suppression already had surfaced in Virginia, a hotly contested state. A judge refused late Monday to extend poll hours or add voting machines to black precincts in some areas.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in a federal lawsuit, demanded those changes, saying minority neighborhoods would experience overwhelming turnout and there weren’t enough electronic machines.
US District Judge Richard Williams denied the motion for a preliminary injunction, but ordered election officials to publicize that people in line by 7 p.m. (0000 GMT), the polls’ closing time, would be allowed to cast ballots.
Republican John McCain’s campaign sued the Virginia electoral board hours before polls opened, trying to force the state to count late-arriving military ballots from overseas.
McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, asked a federal judge to order state election officials to count absentee ballots mailed from abroad that arrive as late as 14 November.
Late Tuesday, the judge ruled he will hear the lawsuit on 10 November. He ordered election officials to keep late-arriving ballots until then.
What is uncommon about Tuesday’s contest is the sheer number of voters expected to descend on more than 7,000 election jurisdictions across the country. Voter registration numbers are up 7.3% from the last presidential election.
“We have a system that is traditionally set up for low turnout,” said Tova Wang of the government watchdog group Common Cause.
“We’re going to have all these new voters, but not a lot of new resources. The election directors just have very little to work with,” Wang added.