msnbc.com and NBC News
updated 3/4/2008 6:23:46 PM ET 2008-03-04T23:23:46

With an unexpectedly large role to play late in the in the presidential primary season, Ohio’s new voting system buckled in many locations, particularly trouble-prone Cleveland.

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In Cuyahoga County, in the Cleveland area, and in Sandusky County, icy weather and shortages of ballots owing to “astounding” interest in the Democratic race led judges to order the polls to stay open for several hours after the scheduled time.

At midnight, only scattered results were available from large urban centers, such as greater Cleveland, Dayton and Cincinnati. Election officials said results from Cuyahoga would be delayed until well into Wednesday morning.

Voters reported that Democratic ballots ran out at polling stations before polls closed at 7:30 p.m. in many locations, giving another black eye to Ohio, which was ordered in December to make a fast-track switch from touch-screen voting to paper ballots.

Ohio’s top elections official, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat elected in 2006 with a promise to reform the system, said she would have preferred more low-profile election to make changes.

“We were really hoping that we would be under the radar, as it were, but as we find ourselves so often in Ohio, we’re smack dab in the middle,” Brunner said.

Sidestepping unwarranted accusations
Peg Rosenfield, an election specialist with the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Ohio, said conspiracy theorists would be out in force once the vote count dragged into Wednesday. “Something will go wrong some place,” she said.

Brunner wants 53 other Ohio counties that use electronic voting machines to switch to paper. For the primary, she required them only to make paper ballots available to voters who ask for them.

In Cuyahoga County, voters were using their third voting system in recent years: punch cards that were abandoned in 2005, then a touch-screen system that highlighted poll-worker training issues and an old-fashioned fill-in-the-oval paper-ballot system debuting Tuesday.

Many poll workers were unprepared for electronic voting in the 2006 primary, and results were delayed five days in Cleveland amid a hand count of absentee ballots. In November, vote totals were delayed until almost noon the day after the election because of computer problems.

Cuyahoga was counting its votes in one location, a former department store warehouse, instead of at each precinct, a move that prevents voters from being alerted if their ballots are improperly filled out.

By Alex Johnson of msnbc.com and Donna Willis of NBC affiliate WCMH in Columbus, Ohio. NBC affiliates WKYC of Cleveland, WLWT of Cincinnati and WTOV of Steubenville, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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