Lines stretched around buildings and down city blocks as people waited hours to cast ballots in the historic presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain. Some touchscreen machines briefly malfunctioned, but the country’s election system seemed to run smoothly.
"For those of us who care about the American process, this was a good day," said Doug Chapin, director of Electionline.org at the Pew Center on the States. "It was a massive undertaking with staggering levels of turnout."
The biggest trouble was big crowds. But folks seemed to take the wait in stride. University students in Florida were prepared to wait for hours after the polls closed.
"What’s keeping me here? America needs a change," said 18-year-old Lauren Feronti at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. "We need to get the right people in office."
In Maryland, Sen. Benjamin Cardin was heartened after visiting a polling precinct. "People are happy and smiling," he said. "People are very anxious to be voting. They really think they are part of history, and they are."
Early voting before Election Day, which drew record crowds in key battleground states, appeared to ease polling pressures on Tuesday. Despite long lines, polls in Ohio — which suffered delayed tallies in 2004 because of malfunctioning machines and huge crowds — closed without incident.
The Ohio Republican Party called on a federal judge to ensure that provisional ballots were counted according to strict standards. Some observers said the complaint could have set the stage for a post-Election Day challenge, but the wide margin of Obama's win appeared to render the issue moot.
Nationwide, poll workers and voters performed well, Chapin said: "We didn’t have anything ... like the meltdowns people feared would occur."
In another battleground state, Pennsylvania, the polls closed with no apparent problems — although some stood in line for hours afterward to cast their votes. A judge dismissed an NAACP lawsuit that sought to force Philadelphia County election officials to count emergency paper ballots past closing time. Voting officials said they plan to start counting those ballots Friday.
In Virginia, McCain's campaign sued the state's electoral board, seeking to have the state count late-arriving military ballots from overseas. The campaign argued that the state didn't send out the ballots on time, and said any ballots received by Nov. 14 should be counted. A federal judge ordered Virginia election officials to preserve the late-arriving ballots, pending a hearing scheduled for Nov. 10.
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However, Obama's margin of victory was such that the ballots weren't expected to make a difference — in contrast with the 2000 election, when the outcome hung on how officials read Palm Beach County's infamous "butterfly ballots."
In New Jersey, some voters were forced to cast paper ballots because of troublesome touch-screen machines. Similar problems popped up elsewhere, but were more sporadic than widespread.
"The majority of them seem to be functioning OK, but there are trouble spots, not unexpected," said Purdue University computer science professor Eugene Spafford, who was watching machine voting issues for the Association of Computing Machinery.
Election Day hoaxes
Old-fashioned dirty tricks marred the voting process in some areas. At Virginia’s George Mason University in Fairfax, Provost Peter N. Stevens sent a campus-wide e-mail announcing that a bogus electronic notice had been sent to all students, saying Election Day had been moved to Wednesday.
“I am sure everybody realizes this is a hoax, it is also a serious offense and we are looking into it,” he wrote.
Similar hoaxes were reported in Idaho, a Republican-leaning state, as well as in Missouri, a battleground state. Missouri's secretary of state, Robin Carnahan, urged voters to ignore misleading text messages and "robo-calls" that told Democratic voters to wait until Wednesday to cast their ballots because of heavy turnout.
"Confusion helps no one on Election Day," she said. "Every eligible voter should be able to cast their ballot without this kind of intimidation."
Worries about the future
In the West, voting by and large went smoothly — except for those long lines. In Texas, voting before Election Day was credited with easing turnout. There were some hour-long waits and traffic was steady, but voting officials reported few problems. During that state’s primary earlier this year, long lines stretched for hours and ballots ran out.
"It’s amazing," said Jacque Callanen, elections administrator for Bexar County, home to San Antonio. "There’s happy people out there."
Some observers worried that the Election Day hassles would dissuade some voters from participating in the democratic process.
“People have to wait for hours. Some people can do that. Some people can’t. This is not the way to run a democracy,” said Tova Wang of the watchdog group Common Cause.
Even though the nation's voting systems worked better on Tuesday than they did in 2000 and 2004, activists worried it was too soon to celebrate.
"The kind of things we look for usually don’t show up right away," said Pam Smith, president of Verified Voting, a nonprofit group that tracks ballot issues. "We saw people standing in lines for hours and hours because voting machines weren’t working. I have a hard time calling that smooth."
This report includes information from The Associated Press; NBC News; WCAU-TV in Philadelphia; and WPTV in West Palm Beach, Fla.
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