Voting System Worked, With Some Hiccups

ElectionsReferendaPoliticsScienceVoting Machines

There is still some fine-tuning to be done, but electronic voting worked well in most of the midterm elections -- even with one-third of American voters facing ballot machines they'd never used before.

In Oregon, a problem that bogged down other states in 2004 surfaced again this year: Paper ballots that were too long and a flood of last-minute votes slowed the scanning, leaving about a tenth of the vote still uncounted at midday Wednesday, officials said.

Illinois election officials had trouble transmitting vote counts, which also delayed a decision in the Cook County board president's race by a day.

In most other states, though, the electronic voting glitches were minor and didn't slow the count.

"People can be confident of the outcome," said Doug Chapin of nonpartisan electionline.org, which monitors polling problems and had warned of possible computer glitches. "Things went well."

The midterm elections -- which saw Republicans lose control of the House and their majority in the Senate -- were far less troubled than the elections of 2004, when malfunctioning voting machines and crowded polls delayed counts for days, most notably in the crucial swing state of Ohio.

There were certainly some hiccups on Tuesday, though.

Voting machines were slow to start in several states, and poll workers and voters often struggled to figure out the new equipment.

In Denver, a power outage and new mega-voting centers caused long lines. Software problems prompted a recount in one Texas county after a longshot candidate was incorrectly awarded a wide margin. A shortage of paper ballots led to Boston police delivering extra ballots during rush hour.

In Ohio, voting machine problems Tuesday convinced a judge to keep 16 polls open an extra 90 minutes. But compared to machine shortages that kept college students standing in line for hours in 2004 and a malfunction in suburban Columbus that year that gave President Bush thousands of extra votes, this year's problems were light.

"In a lot of areas, there are issues that election officials are going to have to look at before the election of 2008," Chapin said.

More than 80 percent of the nation's voters cast some type of electronic ballot on Tuesday -- the deadline for major reforms mandated by the federal Help America Vote Act.

The act, passed by Congress after the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida, required or helped states to replace outdated voting equipment, establish voter registration databases, require better voter identification and provide provisional ballots if something goes wrong.

Oregon's vote counting problems were blamed on a deluge of last-minute ballots and a scanning machine glitch in one county, said state Elections Director John Lindback. In Washington County, the ballot was 17 inches long, rather than the usual 11 inches, and that slowed the machines counting the ballots, he said.

"I don't think we're in the clear," said Michael Alvarez, a political science professor at the California Institute of Technology. "Even 24 months from now, many of these states and counties will continue struggling with these issues."

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