Record number of voters expected to deluge polls
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Long lines and malfunctioning machines greeted voters Tuesday as polls across the country were deluged by people wanting to cast ballots in this historic race between Barack Obama and John McCain. The weather in Eagle County, Colorado, might also play a factor as a winter storm looms just to the west.
In the East, electronic machine glitches forced some New Jersey voters to cast paper ballots. In New York, anxious voters started lining up before dawn, prompting erroneous reports that some precincts weren’t opening on time.
“By 7:30 this morning, we had as many as we had at noon in 2004,” said poll worker John Ritch in Chappaqua, N.Y., where Bill and Hillary Clinton live.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell urged voters to “hang in there” as state and country officials braced for a huge turnout in that hotly contested state. More than 160 people were lined up when the polls opened at First Presbyterian Church in Allentown. “I could stay an hour and a half at the front end or three hours at the back end,” joked Ronald Marshall, a black Democrat.
Hundreds converged on polling precincts in Missouri, a crucial battleground state. Norma Storms, a 78-year-old resident of Raytown, said her driveway was filled with cars left by voters who couldn’t get into nearby parking lots.
“I have never seen anything like this in all my born days,” she said. “I am just astounded.” In Virginia, where a Democrat has not won the presidential race since 1964, several counties experienced paper jams and balky touch-screen devices. In Richmond, a precinct opening was delayed because the person who had the keys overslept. Hundreds of people swarming the branch library cheered when its doors finally opened.
Despite the wait to vote, which in some places was longer than two hours, folks standing in line were appeared happy ” and patient ” about casting a ballot in this historic race.
“Well, I think I feel somehow strong and energized to stand here even without food and water,” said Alexandria, Va., resident Ahmed Bowling, facing a very long line. “What matters is to cast my vote.”
Ohio, which experienced extreme voting problems in the last presidential race, had some jammed paper problems in Franklin County. “We’re taking care of things like that,” said elections spokesman Ben Piscitelli. “But there’s nothing major or systemic.”
Perhaps the most bizarre barrier to voting was a car which hit a utility pole in St. Paul’s Merriam Park neighborhood. The accident knocked power out for over an hour to two polling locations. Ramsey County officials said voting continued at those sites, and the ballots were kept secure until the power was restored and the ballots could be run through an electronic machine.
Late Monday, McCain’s campaign sued the Virginia electoral board, trying to force the state to count late-arriving military ballots from overseas.
McCain, the Republican candidate and a former POW from the Vietnam War, asked a federal judge to order state election officials to count absentee ballots mailed from abroad that arrive as late as Nov. 14.
Lawsuits have become common fodder in election battles. The 2000 recount meltdown in Florida was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
What is uncommon about Tuesday’s contest is the sheer number of voters expected to descend on more than 7,000 election jurisdictions across the country. Voter registration numbers are up 7.3 percent from the last presidential election.
“We have a system that is traditionally set up for low turnout,” said Tova Wang of the government watchdog group Common Cause. “We’re going to have all these new voters, but not a lot of new resources. The election directors just have very little to work with.”