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Worry Builds Over Possible Confusion On Voting Day

Tricky ballots, malfunctioning machines, long lines already among reported issues

Siri Agrell

Voters line up beside empty voting booths inside the Acres Homes Mulit-Service Center to cast their votes on the first day of early voting Monday, Oct. 20, 2008, in Houston. Due to a glitch in the electronic voting system, voters waited in long lines to be checked in manually. Many voters left the polling place due to the problem. (AP Photo/The Houston Chronicle, Brett Coomer)

Genie Gratto of Oakland, Calif., says early voters have been
confused by arrows printed on ballots. Gary Watts reports three-hour
lineups at his polling place in Renton, Wash., which provided only two
dozen machines for people to vote on. Carrie Tobey has a co-worker in
Cape Cod who she said was allowed to vote early instead of by absentee
ballot, even though the state of Massachusetts does not allow the

Tomorrow is election day in the United States, but already, reports
of voting irregularities, long lineups, malfunctioning machines and
badly managed polling stations are pouring in from across the country,
suggesting that any victory will not come easily or without controversy.

More than 130 million Americans are expected to vote tomorrow while
others, like Ms. Gratto, Mr. Watts and Ms. Tobey, have already made
their choice at early polls that were far from problem-free. The trio
are among those who have reported voting issues through the Twitter
Vote Report, a website created by a volunteer network of software
developers so problems can be mapped in real time, helping voters avoid
particularly problematic polling places and prepare for specific issues.

"This year, people are really attuned to the administration of the
election," said Dan Seligson of, a project of the
Pew Center on the State that studies voting issues. "It's part of the
reason so many people are voting early, because they're worried about
election day."

Last week, his organization released a list of 12 states where
voting issues are likely to arise, including important battleground
states such as Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania
and Virginia.

Almost every county in every U.S. state has variations in the voting
system that present a different set of problems, ranging from strict
rules governing voter identification to the likelihood of computer
glitches or incomplete voter-registration databases.

For a country still feeling the repercussions of the disputed 2000
presidential election, the prospect of another contested vote is
frighteningly real.

Florida, where a controversial recount led George W. Bush to victory
eight years ago, is using its third voting system in as many
presidential elections.

Pennsylvania, a state many believe could propel either John McCain
or Barack Obama into the White House, uses electronic voting machines
that retain no paper record of results.

If a machine's memory fails, there is no opportunity for a recount.

And although some areas have statewide systems, most elections are
controlled by county election officials, some of whom are elected and
highly partisan.

Adding to the confusion tomorrow is the sheer number of things for
which Americans will be voting. In addition to the presidential race,
most voters will be confronted with an array of controversial and
confusing ballot questions, as well as congressional races and some
choices for Senate.

But first, they must establish their right to vote.

After the 2000 election debacle, Congress decided each state would be required to create a single voter database.

Of course, many of the databases are deeply flawed, as people's
names and addresses were incorrectly entered and voters are turned away
when their ID doesn't match the name in the system. It's a problem one
voting expert explained to Time magazine as "disenfranchisement through

Even the famous campaign figure Joe the Plumber, a.k.a. Samuel
Joseph Wurzelbacher, is registered under an incorrect name:

The current election has also seen accusations of fraudulent voter
registration. A group called ACORN, a community organization that
represents low-income and minority communities, signed up 1.3 million
people in a registration drive this year.

But the group paid its volunteers using a quota system, creating an
incentive for false records, including the registration of a voter
named Mickey Mouse in Florida and most of the Dallas Cowboys football
team in Nevada.

"I think the largest issue is the number of new registrants," Mr.
Seligson said. "Any time you have a significant amount of new
registrants there's an opportunity for people to show up and not be on
the list. And the quantity of new voters this time is just
extraordinary, historic."

He does not believe there will be a "catastrophic meltdown" tomorrow
but said the likelihood of scattered problems across the country is

The only way voting problems will be inconsequential, he said, is if the margin of victory is larger than the margin of error.

"If McCain wins Oklahoma by 29 per cent, no one will care that there
were 1,500 provisional ballots that haven't been counted," he said.
"But if Obama wins Missouri by 350 votes, you better believe that
everything that happened in that election is going to be under serious

"I would say that election officials are certainly hoping for a
blow-out," he added. "Nothing would be better for our system than to
have an easy day."

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