- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

Busy telephone lines. Computer glitches. Long lines.

Those were some of the complaints expressed by D.C. residents yesterday who showed up at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics headquarters in Northwest to cast an absentee ballot.

Many voters who had questions about voting procedures or work assignments said they couldn’t reach the elections board yesterday because the board’s telephone lines were busy for most of the day.

Some who did get through were placed on hold. And some who were placed on hold eventually were disconnected.

Robert Adams, 35, said he went to the board’s headquarters in Northwest because he needed to find out which precinct he was assigned to work today. He said he tried to call the board several times yesterday but couldn’t get through.

“I know it’s busy, and I understand that,” Mr. Adams said. “But they really need more people handling the phones.”

Showing up in person also didn’t help Mr. Adams, who was told by board officials that someone would call him at home or e-mail him his assignment later in the day.

Bill O’Field, a spokesman for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, blamed the busy telephone lines on the high volume of calls.

“We’re asking voters to be patient,” he said. “It’s just very, very busy.”

Mr. O’Field said the board expects to see an increase in the number of absentee ballots cast, although he said official numbers wouldn’t be available until today.

Elections officials say those registered voters who could not make it to the polls today because of illness, physical disability or travel could cast an in-person absentee ballot at the board’s office at 441 Fourth St. NW until 4:45 p.m. yesterday.

Capitol Hill resident Nelson Rimensnyder came to the board’s office on behalf of his son Jon, who recently registered to vote but had not received a sample ballot for today’s elections.

“They said his name is in the system, but that he’ll have to fill out a provisional ballot,” Mr. Rimensnyder said. “He’ll be disappointed by that.”

Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, voters whose eligibility is in doubt on Election Day — those voters whose names are not on the registration rolls or whose eligibility has been questioned — will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot that will be counted once election officials determine the voter is eligible.

Yvette Missri, 29, a lawyer who lives in Ward 2, said she had a problem with the city’s new touch-screen voting machines. When she swiped her voter card through the machine, a message popped up on the computer screen, saying her card wasn’t valid.

“A nice worker came over and punched in a few numbers, and then it worked fine,” she said.

That’s why Sarah Warren, 32, a humanitarian aid worker who lives in Northwest, said she prefers having a paper ballot to verify that her vote is counted properly.

“I don’t feel comfortable without a paper record,” she said.

Not every one encountered problems.

Verda Deutscher’s visit to the elections headquarters took about 15 minutes.

“The line moved very fast,” said Mrs. Deutscher, 79, of Ward 3. “I’m very impressed.”

Still, Mrs. Deutscher said she understands other voters’ frustration.

“I know people must get absolutely frantic when they get nothing but a busy [telephone] signal,” she said.

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