Polling places turn to paper ballots after glitches


2:31 p.m. EST, November 7, 2006

While two voters wait at right, election workers try to get electronic voting machines to work in Cleveland Tuesday.


(AP) -- Programming errors and inexperience dealing with electronic voting machines frustrated poll workers in hundreds of precincts early Tuesday, delaying voters in Indiana, Ohio and Florida and leaving some with little choice but to use paper ballots instead.


In Cleveland, voters rolled their eyes as election workers fumbled with new touchscreen machines that they couldn't get to start properly until about 10 minutes after polls opened.


"We got five machines -- one of them's got to work," said Willette Scullank, a troubleshooter from the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, elections board.


In Indiana's Marion County, about 175 of 914 precincts turned to paper ballots because poll workers didn't know how to run the machines, said Marion County Clerk Doris Ann Sadler. She said it could take most of the day to fix all of the machine-related issues.


Election officials in Delaware County, Indiana, extended voting hours because voters initially couldn't cast ballots in 75 precincts. County Clerk Karen Wenger said the cards that activate the push-button machines were programmed incorrectly but the problems were fixed by late morning.


Pennsylvania's Lebanon County also extended polling hours because a programming error forced some voters to cast paper ballots.


With a third of Americans voting on new equipment and voters navigating new registration databases and changing ID rules, election watchdogs worried about polling problems even before the voting began. (Watch a poll worker turn away the governor because he didn't have his ID card -- 2:09)


"This is largely what I expected," said Doug Chapin, director of, a nonpartisan group that tracks voting changes. "With as much change as we had, expecting things to go absolutely smoothly at the beginning of the day is too optimistic."


A precinct in Orange Park, Florida, turned to paper ballots because of machine problems. Voting was delayed for 30 minutes or more at some Broward County precincts, where electronic ballots were mixed up and, in one case, a poll worker unintentionally wiped the electronic ballot activators.


In Illinois, some voters found the new equipment cumbersome.


"People seem to be very confused about how to use the new system," said Bryan Blank, a 33-year-old librarian from Oak Park, Illinois. "There was some early morning disarray."

Human error blamed


But voting equipment companies said they hadn't seen anything beyond the norm and blamed the problems largely on human error.


"Any time there's more exposure to equipment, there are questions about setting up the equipment and things like that," said Ken Fields, a spokesman for Election Systems & Software Inc. "Overall, things are going very well."


Some voters even liked the new ballots.


"It was much clearer on what you were voting for and you made sure you absolutely were voting for what you wanted to vote for," said Cathy Schaefer, 59, of Cincinnati.


Other problems had nothing to do with machines. A location in Columbus, Ohio, opened a few minutes late because of a break-in at the school where the precinct is located.


Although turnout generally is lower in midterm elections, this year was the deadline for many of the election changes enacted in the wake of the Florida balloting chaos of 2000.


The 2002 Help America Vote Act required or helped states to replace outdated voting equipment, establish voter registration databases, require better voter identification and provide provisional ballots if something goes wrong.

Stakes are high


Control of Congress is also at stake this year, and because individual congressional races are generally decided by fewer votes than presidential contests, any problems at the polls are more likely to affect the outcome. (Full story)


According to Election Data Services, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm, 32 percent of registered voters were using equipment added since the 2004 elections.


Nearly half of all voters were using optical-scan systems that ask them to fill in blanks, with ballots then fed into a computer. Thirty-eight percent were casting votes on touchscreen machines that have been criticized as susceptible to hackers. (Map: Counties with touch-screen voting machines)


Just getting to the right polling place with all the right identification posed a challenge for some voters.


Many states established voter registration databases for the first time, and many found problems as they tried to match driver's license and Social Security data with the voter rolls. Someone may have a middle initial or use "Jr." on one list but not the other, and data entry errors also occur.


Although not required by federal law, some states passed new voter identification requirements, some calling for a government-issued photo ID rather than just a utility bill.


Courts have struck down ID requirements in several states, but Missouri's chief elections official, Robin Carnahan, said she was still asked three times to show a photo ID, despite a court ruling striking the requirement down there.


Some New Mexico voters complained they had received phone calls giving them incorrect information about where in vote.


In one of the worst fiascoes, Maryland election officials forgot to send the cards primary voters needed to activate electronic machines at their polling places, and some voters had to cast provisional ballots on scraps of paper.


Baltimore County election director Jacqueline McDaniel said the poll workers had a few problems on Tuesday -- one left part of the equipment in his car; another was looking in the wrong place for the electronic poll books.


Several Florida counties stocked up ahead of the election with extra voting machines, paper ballots and poll workers on standby. Apart from the state's infamous chads in 2000, Florida voters have struggled with poorly trained poll workers and precincts opening late or closing early.


Florida Secretary of State Sue Cobb said she didn't expect serious problems Tuesday. The Justice Department was deploying poll watchers at dozens of potential trouble spots nationwide. (Watch why the monitors are being deployed -- 1:59)


"History has shown that the machines are far more accurate than paper so we're quite confident in it," Cobb said. "There is absolutely no reason to believe that there will be any security issues, any hacking going on."


Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.