- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Less than 24 hours after the polls closed, most election specialists and watchdog groups monitoring the 2004 presidential election cited long lines as the biggest problem affecting voters, and were unable to identify any major problems associated with voting systems.

“By and large, there was no evidence of systemic problems with machines … for the most part, I didn’t get reports of any major breakdowns,” said Doug Chapin, director of the Election Reform Information Project, a nonpartisan research group.

Meanwhile, President Bush’s Electoral College victory and his large popular-vote margin took the wind out of several expected and threatened legal challenges by Democrats and Republicans in a number of battleground states.

An army of lawyers hired by the Democratic Party had been posed to bring lawsuits, charging voter fraud and intimidation, but Sen. John Kerry’s concession speech and his call for a reuniting of a “divided America” appeared to put an end to those efforts.

Republican “swat teams,” at least six groups of lawyers ready to travel to challenge claims of voter-registration fraud, also went home.

“The election went smoother than some fearmongers thought it would, but a final decision [on how it went] is still out there. Anecdotally, things went pretty well,” said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, a consulting firm that works on election administration.

Mr. Chapin credited state and local elections officials with refining their voting systems to prevent any appearance of impropriety. He said federal money provided to states to reform voting equipment helped prevent a repeat of the recount chaos surrounding the 2000 election in Florida.

“Election officials knew this election would be heavily scrutinized,” so they took steps to be ready, Mr. Chapin said. “And voters definitely deserve some of the credit. They were willing to stand in lines [for long periods], and they seemed to understand that they had a role in the process.”

Some watchdog groups said Tuesday’s election demonstrated that there is still a need for change in the infrastructure of elections in this country.

“In some regions of Ohio, people waited in line five to seven hours after the polls closed. This might be a triumph of their determination to vote. But it really reflects the inability of our voting process to handle high-volume elections,” said Miles Rapoport, president of Demos, a New York-based nonpartisan, public policy organization.

Ralph Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way, said some “serious problems” still need to be fixed.

He said a hot line that his group runs received “tens of thousands of complaints” about voting problems, “including more than 2,200 complaints from Ohio alone.”

Mr. Neas said the list included complaints about scattered machine malfunctions; too few poll workers; requests for absentee ballots that went unfilled; and precincts that ran out of provisional ballots.

Thousands of poll watchers hired by the Republican Party, whose presence in some states had been challenged by Democrats but later allowed after a ruling by a federal appeals court, showed up en masse, but there were only a few sporadic reports of any incidents. Democrats also assigned poll watchers and their activities also went on without major problems.

“It’s just not turning out to be as large of an issue as it could have possibly been,” said Molly Lombardi, spokeswoman for the Election Protection Coalition, a monitoring group.

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