- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

State election officials and watchdog groups yesterday reported scattered but minor problems at polls nationwide and said they expected turnout, which caused long waits in several jurisdictions, to break records.

Demos, a nonpartisan, public-policy organization, last night predicted that turnout could exceed an “unprecedented” 120 million, about 15 million more than the 105.5 million in 2000, which was 51 percent of the electorate.

The modern record for voter turnout was set in 1960, when 65 percent of those eligible cast votes. In that election, Democrat John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Republican Richard M. Nixon.

“The extremely high voter turnout [in] this election reverses 30 years of declining voter participation. This is wonderful news for our democracy, and we applaud voters for braving long lines to make sure their voice is heard,” said Miles Rapoport, president of Demos.

Precincts across the state of Pennsylvania and Ohio stayed open past the scheduled closing time of 8 p.m. because of huge lines.

Doug Chapin, director of the Election Reform Information Project, a research group, said voting-machine breakdowns, missing poll workers and incorrect names on ballots were reported at several polling places, including in New York City, Richmond and New Orleans.

“There have been no big [problems] but lots of little ones,” Mr. Chapin said.

In New York City, where voters still pull levers on old-fashioned machines, some more than 40 years old, there were several reports of breakdowns.

An official of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said New Orleans should win an award as the “worst place” to vote in the country because of its dismal handling of electronic voting yesterday. Precinct workers were forced to tell some voters to come back to the polls because of problems including new electronic voting machines, which replaced lever machines, that did not boot up properly.

Jenny Nash, spokeswoman for the Florida Secretary of State’s Office, said turnout throughout that battleground state seemed likely to break the state record of 70 percent set in 2000.

Ms. Nash said there were some glitches with the state’s new touch-screen voting machines, but no votes were lost.

“There have been very minor problems statewide,” she said, offering examples: “A handful of precincts opened 15 minutes late, and one county had a poll watcher who became disruptive.”

Florida was mired in voter problems in the last presidential election, and that chaos resulted in an overhaul of voting technology there and in many other states. Fifteen counties replaced the so-called pre-scored punch-card voting machines — with the hanging, pregnant and dimpled chads that wreaked havoc in those jurisdictions in the 2000 elections.

“Florida is redeemed,” said Marty Rogol, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Board of Elections, which, he said, experienced only “minimal problems” with its new touch-screen voting machines. In 2000, many voters in that county were confused by the so-called “butterfly ballot” used with punch cards.

In Minnesota, a state where the race between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, was considered especially close, election spokesman Kevin Kaiser said voter turnout probably would exceed 70 percent, up several points from 2000.

“There were some lines a couple of blocks long in St. Paul,” he noted.

Several state election officials, including ones in the battleground states of Ohio, Michigan and Arizona, last night were not certain that they would be able to declare a winner immediately, saying it will depend on the number of provisional voters who show up at the polls.

“We’ll have final statewide results by midmorning Wednesday,” said Ramon de la Cruz, director of the Division of Elections for New Jersey.

Despite concerns about punch-card voting machines, more than 12 percent of voters nationwide used them.

Punch cards were used in most counties in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the race between Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry was seen as a virtual dead heat. No electronic voting machines were deployed in Ohio.

“Electronic machines do not allow voters to overvote, but punch cards do,” said James Lee, spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office.

But Aviel Rubin, a computer-sciences professor at Johns Hopkins University, who is a specialist in touch-screen electronic voting machines, has predicted that this election “could be a disaster” if it’s close, given that 30 percent of voters will rely on touch-screen machines.

They “can give results, but no one knows if they are accurate, because they can’t produce a recount,” Mr. Rubin has said.

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