Wednesday, October 27, 2004

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Unexpected heavy early-voter turnout has resulted in long lines here, leaving election officials and citizens calling for more voting places.

“I do think we need more sites open because this is a huge turnout. I guess they got people really angry about 2000, and I was so pleased they pulled me out of line,” said Lisa Luman, 35, who was on crutches because of a hip injury.

Several pre-Election Day voters, like Rikkia Rellford, 20, a student at Florida A&M University, said she stood in line for more than an hour to cast her ballot at the Leon County Court House.

“I wish all the election supervisors were like Leon [County] supervisor Ion Sancho, because he has attacked every problem that has come up, but I would like to see more sites open,” Miss Rellford said.

Jenny Nash, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Glenda E. Hood, said record numbers of newly registered voters and absentee-ballot requests coupled with the early-voter turnout — more than 30 percent of registered voters are expected to cast their ballots before Tuesday — have overwhelmed elections offices.

“Our supervisors have been promoting the early voting and we’re pleased to see people taking advantage, but I don’t think the supervisors expected to see this many people,” Miss Nash said.

Mrs. Hood traveled to West Palm Beach on Monday to witness the lines of people, some who stood in the sun for two hours before entering the voting booth.

But Miss Nash said this is the first election in Florida in which early voting has been allowed statewide. She said although the process has run “rather smoothly,” logistical problems have arisen that need to be improved before the next election.

In some areas there were not enough machines, Miss Nash said, and in Broward County there was a problem with voters receiving their absentee ballots in a “timely fashion.”

Newspapers here reported that about 58,000 absentee ballots have yet to reach their destinations. The mishap led to thousands of calls to the elections supervisors, overloading the phone lines.

Leon County’s Mr. Sancho said he has fielded numerous calls from Broward County students at Florida State and A&M universities, which are in Leon County, complaining that Broward County supervisors’ phones are busy and can’t get their ballots.

Broward County officials blamed the U.S. Postal Service for the problem.

Miss Nash said those who can’t got to their local elections supervisors office to pick up a ballot will be mailed one overnight.

Statewide registration is up by more than 1.5 million, from 8.75 million in 2000 to 10.3 million on the rolls this year. More than 11 percent of the electorate had voted by Tuesday in Jacksonville and similar numbers could be found in nearly every district, including Leon County, Miss Nash said.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, Democrats filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Columbus, seeking to block a Republican challenge of 35,000 voter registrations. Democrats asked the court to issue an order halting hearings before county elections boards now being held to determine whether challenged voters live where they are registered and should remain on the rolls.

Elections boards in at least 62 of 88 Ohio counties have scheduled hearings about challenges by the Republicans, who charged that mail to newly registered voters was returned as undeliverable, suggesting they had fraudulently been submitted.

The Democrats said in the suit, filed Tuesday, that there is no evidence to show that the unreturned mail represented ineligible voters. Instead, they said, the mail likely represented people who moved but were still eligible to cast ballots under state and federal law.

In Philadelphia, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania Democrat, and several other prominent black leaders promised yesterday to stand guard against what they called Republican efforts to suppress black voters. Mr. Jackson described the promise as a “pre-emptive strike.”

Their comments came in response to a U.S. News & World Report article that quoted Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel, Philadelphia Republican, saying the “Kerry campaign needs to come out with humongous numbers here in Philadelphia” and that it was “important for me to keep that number down.”

• Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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