Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Machine Problems Plague 1st Day Of Early Voting

Machine Problems Plague 1st Day Of Early Voting

Voting Brisk In Metro Counties With No Problems

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People lined up to be among the first to vote at several early voting sites around Jacksonville Monday morning had an extra long wait and some left frustrated when machines at several locations refused to record the ballots.

"It was very shocking to have the very first ballot at 10 o'clock this morning not go into the machine," said state Rep. Audrey Gibson, who hoped to be first to vote at the Gateway location.

The Duval County elections office confirmed problems with voting machines at the Gateway Shopping Center and libraries on Edgewood Avenue, at Regency Square and Webb Wesconnett. Channel 4 heard from voters experiencing problems at other polling places, as well.

"I was frustrated with all the breakdowns of the machines," Westside voter John Lord said. "How long have they had to had this all fixed and ready to go and they knew it was an important election and that there would be a big turnout."

Voters were not the only ones frustrated. Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland said his staff had to replace optical scanners at four sites and they were investigating reports of problems at other sites.

"The reader said the ballot is too long. However, in looking at that, we measured that, there's not a problem," Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland said. "It doesn't stop the voters from voting, because we can put them in an emergency bin and then read them tonight when we close it, but obviously it's frustrating when we bought new equipment for this and we are having some problems that didn't show up at all during testing."

While voters could continue to cast ballots and put them in the emergency bin, they were uncomfortable not seeing their vote registered.

Demetria McWhite decided to come back later when the machines were working rather than trust election workers to feed her ballot into the machine after she was gone.

"I'm kind of nervous about it, you know -- that my vote won't go to the right person," said Annie Fingh.

Late Monday, election officials said a total of seven ballot scanning machines malfunctioned and had to be replaced. Ten more were ordered from the manufacturer as backups.

Lines on the first of 14 days of early voting were not unexpected. Election observers predict a record turnout -- perhaps 85 percent -- this year as voters will not only choose between the first African-American or the oldest man ever to run for president, but decide dozens of congressional, state legislative and local government races, along with several constitutional amendments.

Bernice Seget, who was first in line at the supervisor of elections office downtown Monday, said she waited about 35 minutes to cast her ballot.

Seget, 72, said she came early to "avoid the rush ... I knew the crowd is going to be heavy."

At the Webb Wesconnett library on 103rd Street, where people waited over an hour while election workers tried to fix the optical scanners, one woman commented: "I've never seen this many people in line -- even on Election Day -- since the 70s."

Early voting in other northeast Florida counties has gone smoothing, with hundreds voting in every county by midday and 2,900 voting in St. Johns County by 2 p.m.

Around the state, said the turnout for the first day of early voting was heavy and some lines, but no other counties reported the extent of malfunctions experience in Jacksonville.

"Lines are a sign of a healthy democracy, and certainly our democracy is healthy today," said Secretary of State Kurt Browning.

That heavy turnout combined with a large number of first-time voters and a ballot containing several races and constitutional amendments will result in lines of two hours or more on Nov. 4, election officials have urged people to take advantage of one of the two ways Florida law gives for voters to cast ballots before Election Day:

Absentee Voting: Registered voters do not need a reason to request an absentee ballot, and it can be done by mail up to Oct. 29 or in person at county elections offices through Election Day. Contact the supervisor of elections office for your county to learn more.

Early Voting:. From Oct. 20 through Nov. 1, in most counties and through Nov. 2 in Duval County, registered voters can go to any early voting site in their county, show a photo ID and cast a ballot. In large metro counties, people can vote when and where it's convenient.Nationwide, about a third of the electorate is expected to vote early this year. That would be up from 22 percent in 2004 and 16 percent in 2000.

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