Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Metropolitan-area voters yesterday endured longer-than-usual lines at polling places, but mostly escaped the widespread election-machine failures, voter intimidation and registration challenges that some had feared.

Minor problems around the region prompted a few accusations of voting abuses, longer waits in line and requests for police.

In Fairfax County, Republican lawyers fielded several complaints that elections officials were allowing some voters to leave polling places without voting after receiving their blue permit slips.

The voters said they were leaving because they wanted to come back when the lines were shorter, but Republicans said that voters who left with the slips could tear them in two and allow an unauthorized person to vote with the second half.

“It’s a ballot-security problem,” Republican lawyer Chris Barnakov said.

Eric Lundgard, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, called for the resignation of county Board of Elections’ Secretary Margaret Lucas.

Mrs. Lucas said precinct officials must reconcile their poll books with the counts from machines, and that they pay close attention to the condition of the blue slips.

“It’s a pretty good chance we can reconcile that,” she said.

Democrats said the only calls they received were mundane Election Day questions.

“It seems like everything’s running pretty smoothly. It’s just the typical Election Day questions,” said Laura Bland, spokeswoman for the Virginia Democratic Party.

Democrats also stationed 700 lawyers at precincts around Virginia, many of whom were in Fairfax County, in case there were any problems with voter intimidation or suppression.

“We’re prepared in case there is a problem,” said Seth Stark, a real estate and corporate lawyer for 20 years in the metro area who was stationed at Braddock Elementary School in Annandale.

Meanwhile, international observers who monitored precincts in several Virginia and Maryland counties and cities declined to comment on the progress of their inspections.

“We don’t want to make any comments until this is all over and we’ve seen everything we need to,” said Urdur Gunnarsdottir, spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which will issue a report on Friday.

Elections officials said the high turnout was unprecedented.

“Everybody I’ve talked to who’s been in this business for a long time, they say they’ve never seen anything like it,” said Virginia Board of Elections Secretary Jean Jensen, adding that she expected the state to surpass its 2000 voter turnout of 68.5 percent.

At Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, a crush of more than 1,000 voters by noon overwhelmed the precinct, forcing waits up of to two hours in a line that snaked out the gymnasium door.

“We’ve got a lot of development around here, and they haven’t divided the precinct,” said Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis, who went to the school to help organize the line.

Area voters showed up early at the polls.

Elections officials at Capitol Heights Elementary School and the Hyattsville Public Library said several hundred voters lined up when the polls opened at 7 a.m.

“You don’t have to go far to find someone who says they had to wait for a couple of hours,” said elections official Joe Hinton.

At Braddock Elementary, voters arrived at 4:30 a.m. to wait for the 6 a.m. opening, assistant precinct captain Marvin Jensen said. By midmorning, Mr. Jensen’s green polo shirt was soaked with sweat as he raced around the packed school gymnasium assisting voters.

Steven Carpenter, 29, a graphic designer for the Salvation Army, waited an hour in line at Braddock Elementary before voting for Sen. John Kerry for president because, he said, he thought President Bush was “incompetent.”

He said the long line did not bother him because he had expected it, and he passed the time by thinking about an old episode of TV’s “The Simpsons.”

In the District, there was some confusion over voting procedures, and turnout was low in some places.

At Choice Academy at Taft in Northeast, the expected evening rush did not materialize. Precinct officials noted there was no local council race on the ballot and speculated that some voters were confused that the polling place had moved from a nearby church.

At Bancroft Elementary School in Northwest, voters staked out the polls early.

“The polls opened at 7 a.m., but lines had formed and people were here at 6:15 a.m. We’ve had very heavy voter turnout,” precinct captain Mary Davis said.

Regina Waiters of Northeast said she voted at Ruth K. Webb Elementary School after she was told by election officials at her usual location — Browne Junior High School — that she couldn’t vote there.

“I did a lot of [traveling] to vote. It’s frustrating to see people coming out of their houses, right up the street from me, being able to vote at Browne. And some people coming here are in wheelchairs. It’s a shame if they couldn’t just go to the one nearest to them,” she said.

Miss Waiters, a school bus driver, said her exasperation nearly kept her from voting. “I said if I wasn’t able to vote [at Webb], I was going to leave. And I’m coming down here during work.”

• Denise Barnes, Tarron Lively, Judith Person, Amy Doolittle, Gary Emerling, Sarah Hoffman, Subodh Mishra, Joseph Bacchus and Rachel Jackson contributed to this report.

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