Wednesday, April 23, 2008

PA: High Turnout, Some Machine Problems

PA: High Turnout, Some Machine Problems

By Steven Rosenfeld

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Good weather and intense interest appear to be producing a high turnout in Pennsylvania's presidential primary Tuesday. However, there were reports of long lines and delays of more than an hour before voting in African-American neighborhoods in Philadelphia as a result of voting machine failures, according to the 1-866-MY-VOTE-1 hotline.

The voter hotline taking calls from across Pennsylvania reported there were problems with electronic voting machines freezing at the start of voting, as well as people not finding their names on voter rolls at precincts, voter hotline officials said.

By midday, callers to the 1-866-MY-VOTE-1 hotline had made 850 calls, according to Harry Cook of InfoVoter Technologies, which screen the requests for help and forward callers to local election officials to help them. The calls came from 710 polling locations across the state, although most were from Philadelphia and then Pittsburgh, the two largest cities.

Of those calls, 150 people left complaints that were recorded and forwarded to local election officials. Shortly after 7 AM, when polls were slated to open, there were a handful of complaints of precincts that failed to do so. In the next few hours, there were complaints of electronic voting machine failures in several precincts leaving voters without any machines to vote on.

Callers to the hotline said there were 90-minute waits to vote in some precincts. Unconfirmed reports by supporters of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) said there were waits as long as three hours. In contrast, there did not appear to be the kinds of voting machine failures, or as many of them, in regions of the state seen as leaning toward Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY). By noon, election lawyers in Philadelphia were discussing going to court to require election officials to provide back-up paper ballots.

The other big problem, apart from people not knowing their polling place location, according to the hotline reports, was voters who believed they were correctly registered but found their names omitted from lists at their precincts, or listed as a member of another political party. All states must meet a federal requirement to create statewide voter lists, and there have been some issues with names being lost by database programmers.

The biggest problem may not surface until 8 PM when polls close, according to election integrity activists, when many of the paperless voting machines automatically shift into a shut-down mode, requiring poll workers to go through a series of state-up screens for every voter who remain in line.

People who are in line by the close of the poll hours are allowed to vote. However, they will have to wait while the poll workers restart the machines. Whether or not each precinct's allotment of backup paper ballots will be sufficient to deal with these potential long lines remains to be seen.

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