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Ballot confusion, weather stifle voting

Scattered voting problems, including ballot confusion in California, machine glitches and long lines, emerged in some states on the biggest Super Tuesday ever held in America. But overall, weather was more of a disruption than technology or new procedures.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Massive ballot confusion struck California as Super Tuesday voters across the country faced scattered voting problems. M achine glitches and long lines were also reported. But overall, weather was more of a disruption than technology or new procedures.

A record turnout was expected as an unprecedented 24 states held primaries and caucuses to narrow the field for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees.

Confusion over how independent voters cast ballots riled campaign officials in California.

The campaign of Sen. Barack Obama said Tuesday that voting irregularities occurred in San Francisco and Oakland due to the Decline to State ballot rule in California.

Under state rules, voters who aren't affiliated with any political party can vote in the Democratic or Independent primaries, but they have to specially request a ballot.

Some of the precinct voters, KNTV-San Francisco reported, may not have known that, according to the Obama campaign.

The Clinton campaign said that the Obama campaign should have prepared their supporters ahead of time, but did say that they shared the same concern over people possibly not being allowed to vote.

An official with the Department of Elections in San Francisco told NBC11's Jean Elle that there had been more than 700 incidents that the agency was looking into in the city. Most of them, however, were issues that were unrelated to the possible Decline To State voting problem.

"If people check off who they want for president, they have the right to be counted," said Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, reported KNBC-TV. "We don't want to see, as we saw in Florida with the butterfly ballot scandal a few years ago, thousands of voters lose that most basic of their rights."

Votes apparently lost
Some votes were apparently lost in Illinois when about 20 people at a Chicago precinct were given styluses designed for touch-screen machines instead of ink pens. When voters complained the devices made no marks on their paper ballots, a ballot judge told them the markers were full of invisible ink.

"After 20 people experienced the same problem, somebody said 'Wait, we've got 20 ballots where nobody's voted for anything,'" said Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen. Officials were trying to contact the voters; Allen said the both the voters and the judge believed the invisible ink theory.

Photo ID requirement causes delays
In Georgia, where voters are now required to present photo identification, wait times in some areas were as long as 90 minutes because for the first time in a major election, poll workers had to compare IDs against computerized registration records.

A spokeswoman for Democratic hopeful Barack Obama said the campaign was considering asking Georgia officials to keep at least one Atlanta precinct open late because it didn't open on time. Heavy turnout and sporadic computer problems may prompt additional requests for extended poll hours, said Obama spokeswoman Adora Andy.

"That (comparison) process with the computer terminals is very slow, and that can create some long lines," said Clare Schexnyder of Election Protection, a national election monitoring group. "We're finally figuring out that it's not that there are not enough voting machines, it's the check-in process."

By its nature, electronic voting is prone to both manmade and technical glitches.

"Voting machines are always going to have issues. That's inevitable," said Tova Wang of The Century Foundation think tank. "They're machines that are operated by human beings. The question is whether the poll workers are trained and have everything they need. If the machines malfunction, do they have paper ballots and do they have enough of them?"

Nasty weather marred voting in several states. Storms drew a line down the middle of the nation, spawning deadly tornadoes to the south, dumping snow to the north, and dropping heavy rain on parts of Ohio and Indiana still recovering from major floods months ago.

Elections officials worried that might discourage some voters.

Tornadoes were reported in the South. In Arkansas, Natasha Naragon, a spokeswoman with the secretary of state's office, said she received several reports of polling locations closing in northern Conway County.

A voting machine that wouldn't function sits near a line of people waiting to vote in the presidential primary on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008, in Nashville, Tenn. The polling place had four other machines that were working. Mark Humphrey / AP

"It's been a wild night," state emergency management spokesman Tommy Jackson told Little Rock television station KATV. "A heck of a way to have elections in Arkansas."

In Tennessee, a tornado hit north of Memphis, but there were no immediate reports of major effects on voting.

In Arizona, where voting activists feared a controversial photo ID rule could cause confusion, things were apparently fine. "People are walking up to the polls with their drivers' licenses in their hands," said Mindy Moretti, who was monitoring voting in the Phoenix and Scottsdale areas for the watchdog group "People seem ready for it. No one seems to be upset."

Concerns over mail-in ballots
In the lead-up to Super Tuesday, voting advocates worried that long lines, high turnout and record numbers of mail-in ballots in states such as California could drag out the counting process for days. Across the country, election officials have estimated that mail-in ballots may account for as much as 50 percent of the vote in some areas.

More than 5 million people have requested mail-in ballots in California, where there are 15.7 million registered voters. Election officials in the most populated and delegate-rich state in the country have said results may not be available until Wednesday or later.

As much as 25 percent of the overall vote may go uncounted Tuesday night, officials said. A major cause of expected delays is late-arriving mail-in ballots, which will be counted only after precinct votes are tallied. Polls close at 8 p.m. PT.

Another element is the state's recent switch from electronic voting machines to paper ballots. Four of California's most populous counties — Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Santa Clara — must count votes at centralized locations because there aren't enough optical scanners for every precinct. Los Angeles and Sacramento will also haul their paper ballots to a single location, where they will be tallied electronically.

"We're working as late as we can to get all of them counted," said San Bernardino registrar Kathi Payne.