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Some voting problems, but overall smooth election
By SETH BORENSTEIN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — That feared voting problem meltdown that could put a presidential election in doubt again? Never mind.
Barack Obama’s large victory margin, combined with election officials and voters being more familiar with high-tech machinery, kept problems sporadic and inconsequential when it came to determining who was elected president. Overall, the election of 2008 went smoothly, with a few problems here and there.
"For those of us who care about the American process, this was a good day," said Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org at the Pew Center on the States. "It was a massive undertaking with staggering levels of turnout."
Voting troubles in 2008 were a lot like the Y2K bug in 2000 — greatly feared and anticipated, but not realized, said Stephen Ansolabehere, a political science professor at Harvard and MIT. That’s because election officials and monitors were, like companies in 2000, prepared.
There were glitches that kept people from casting their ballots: malfunctioning machines, extremely long lines, people left off voter roles, absentee ballots not mailed in time. But those problems were more sporadic than widespread. And in the end, they didn’t make a difference in the presidential race.
"If it were as close as it was in 2000, we could have been very easily considered a meltdown," said Jonah Goldman, director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Goldman was a top official with Election Protection, a massive coalition of nonprofits monitoring voting issues, with a toll-free number for voters to call with problems. And while the coalition found lots of problems and said many things need to be fixed by 2012, it was quiet enough that it canceled an early evening media teleconference and closed up shop by 11 p.m. EST.
"By and large the system did what it was supposed to today," electionline.org’s Chapin said. "We didn’t have anything kind of like the meltdowns people feared would occur," he said.
With voting machines, familiarity breeds contentment. Poll workers and voters alike weren’t as flummoxed by the high-tech devices as they were in 2004 and 2008.
"Given the tsunami of voter participation, which is a wonderful thing that we’ve experienced today and in those advanced early voting states, it was a remarkably quiet day overall," said Chris Riggall, spokesman for Diebold’s Premier Election Solutions of Allen, Tex.
The biggest issue by far was sheer number of voters. But folks seemed to take the lines in stride. University students in Florida were prepared to wait hours after polls closed and massive lines remained.
"What’s keeping me here? America needs a change," said 18-year-old Lauren Feronti at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. "We need to get the right people in office."
In Texas, Bexar County elections administrator Jacque Callanen: "It’s amazing. ... There’s happy people out there."
But it wasn’t happy everywhere. Pennsylvania and Virginia had the worst problems and seemed the worst-prepared, said Pam Smith, president of Verified Voting, a nonprofit that tracks ballot issues. Machine problems and others forced many in Philadelphia county to use emergency paper ballots, but they may not be counted for days. On Tuesday, a judge dismissed an NAACP lawsuit that sought to force Philadelphia County elections officials to count emergency paper ballots past closing time.
However, Ohio and North Carolina did much better than in previous years, Smith said.
She was wary about declaring victory over election woes: "The kind of things we look for usually don’t show up right away. ... We saw people standing in lines for hours and hours because voting machines weren’t working. I have a hard time calling that smooth."