- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Glitches in the new high-tech voting machines and accusations of impropriety at polling places plagued the most closely watched precincts in the nation yesterday.

Two years ago, widespread voting problems delayed the outcome of the presidential election.

The most serious mishaps appeared in dozens of counties in Georgia, where officials said the glitches could result in contested elections and lawsuits, and in Arkansas where 10 precincts ran out of ballots.

Computer screens in at least 15 counties recorded votes for Republicans as votes for Democrats. Ballots in at least three precincts in southwest Terrell County near Albany, Ga., listed the wrong county commission races.

Officials shut down the polls at one point to fix the problem but didn't know how many wrong ballots were cast or how to correct errant votes. In Bryan County near Savannah, a county commission race was omitted from a ballot.

Georgia Republican officials said last night they were sending a letter to Secretary of State Cathy Cox about the problems.

"Our biggest concern is those people who hit the button and moved on," said Vernadette Broyles, chief deputy legal counsel for the Georgia Republican Party. "They don't know how their vote was cast. Without getting our hands on those machines, it's impossible for us to conjecture on what we'll do next."

The same problem occurred at some precincts in Montgomery County, Md., where some voters complained of the electronic machines confusing their votes.

"I pushed a Republican ticket for governor, and his name disappeared," said Kevin West, of Upper Marlboro who voted at the St. Thomas Church in Croom. "Then the Democrat's name got an 'X' put in it.

"If you don't pay attention to it, you're not going to see it," he said, adding he was able to correct the problem before leaving the polling place.

There were also reports of voters in Pulaski County, Ark., not being able to vote because 10 precincts ran out of ballots and voters received wrong information about where they should vote.

A county judge last night ordered polls in Pulaski County to stay open an extra 90 minutes, or until 9 p.m., as requested by the Arkansas Democratic Party. The state Supreme Court later overturned the ruling, saying any ballots cast after the polls' 7:30 p.m. closing time are invalid.

In Colorado, two-thirds of the 91,000 absentee ballots in Jefferson County have a typographical error that experts say could lead to a court challenge of election results. The ballots tell voters to "mail by Saturday, Nov. 5."

But Saturday was Nov. 2; Tuesday, Election Day, was Nov. 5. Ballots mailed on Nov. 5 will arrive too late to be counted.

The error could open the door for Democrat challenger Tom Strickland to contest his loss to Republican Sen. Wayne Allard.

More than 300 federal observers and 108 Justice Department personnel were monitoring the general election in 26 counties in 14 states yesterday. They were on the lookout for any signs of discrimination based on race or problems encountered by the disabled as well as whether all eligible voters were able to cast a ballot.

Democrats and Republicans sent lawyers to almost every site where there was a competitive Senate race, to watch for voter fraud.

Widespread voting problems were reported in the 2000 presidential election, particularly in Florida, where the outcome wasn't decided for 36 days as recounts were taken.

Voting in Florida went smoothly yesterday, with hardly any problems. The state spent $32 million to overhaul its election system that included the installation of touch-screen voting machines. Those machines malfunctioned during the Sept. 10 Democratic primary that pitted lawyer Bill McBride against former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

Florida Secretary of State Jim Smith, whose office oversees elections, characterized the voting as boringly smooth. "Today was a great day for Florida," he said. "I think we finally have this monkey off of our back that we can't conduct a proper election."

In Massachusetts, former Winter Olympics chief Mitt Romney, the Republican gubernatorial winner, filed a complaint with the secretary of state, claiming that union workers were improperly influencing voters in one precinct by going into the voting booths with some of them. The workers belonged to the Service Employees International Union.

"We've got union officials going into the booth with people and telling them how to vote," said Rob Gray, Mr. Romney's campaign adviser. Union officials denied any wrongdoing and Secretary of State William Galvin was reviewing the complaint.

Democrats accused the Republican Party of trying to suppress the black vote, a charge that was labeled "wild and wacky" by Republicans who threatened legal action against the Democrats.

In Maryland, Democrats accused Republicans of passing out fliers in predominantly black communities to intimidate black voters. They charge that the fliers displayed the wrong Election Day date and warned voters to make sure that their parking tickets were paid and their rent was not overdue.

With black support crucial to his party's electoral success, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe lashed out at Republicans as saboteurs of the black vote.

"The tactics being used around the country to intimidate voters and suppress voter turnout are nothing less than despicable," Mr. McAuliffe said in a written statement.

Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot accused Mr. McAuliffe of trying "to breathe life into an otherwise confusing and scattered agenda through the use of wild and wacky allegations of misconduct."

The spat underscored the importance of minority voters, who were courted by both parties with unprecedented fervor in the weeks and months leading up to yesterday's midterm elections.

Democrats also paid workers "walk-around money" to urge voters to go to the polls in heavily Democratic Baltimore and Prince George's County. The practice was once common in state politics but was banned in the late 1970s.

Maryland's state attorney general decided on Monday that Election Day workers could be paid to distribute literature and get out the vote, provided that the drive was strictly nonpartisan and didn't advocate a choice of candidate.

cBill Sammon, and S.A. Miller contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.

However, yesterday's problems at the polls were mostly blamed on computer glitches.

Election workers in Tarrant County, Texas, were expected to be counting ballots into this morning to tabulate votes after officials found a programming error that failed to detect straight-party votes.

Bill Sammon, and S.A. Miller contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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