Long waits, minor glitches, big smiles

People wait to vote at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Detroit on Tuesday. At some places across the country, voting times ran to hours.

Associated Press

People wait to vote at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Detroit on Tuesday. At some places across the country, voting times ran to hours.

WASHINGTON — An unprecedented outpouring of voters translated into waits of several hours Tuesday at polling sites from Virginia to Arizona, amid sporadic reports around the country of voting machine malfunctions, faulty registration lists, deceptive text-messages and other high-tech efforts to deter young people and minorities from casting ballots.

By evening, the quadrennial ritual of selecting a president had produced few problems widespread enough to cast the outcome in doubt, according to election observers, state election officials and the political parties.

In fact, the record-shattering turnouts in parts of the country transformed the protracted waits into de facto street parties, with citizens snapping photos with their cell phones as they waited their turn at democracy's most basic task. In Santa Monica, Calif., crowds waiting for the polls to open at City Hall at 7 a.m. broke into cheers and songs as the sun dawned.

The election appeared to produce record turnout, with long lines outside polling stations in many states on top of record-breaking early voting.

The day had its share of glitches. One Kansas City, Mo., ward received scrambled registration lists, prompting huge backups for two hours until the rolls were straightened out. A suspicious white powder closed one Rhode Island polling station for four hours until officials determined the substance to be soap. And detectives in Lancaster County, Pa., began investigating reports of calls to voters steering them to the wrong voting sites.

Chesapeake, Va., had some of the longest lines in the country, as voting machine problems produced seven-hour waits early in the day.

Last-minute lawsuits challenging election procedures were lodged Tuesday in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, New Hampshire and Ohio. But election law specialists said that potential problems at the polls had been averted by nearly a dozen lawsuits nationwide filed in recent weeks, in which federal and state courts upheld the eligibility of hundreds of thousands of voters.

"From the national view, we just haven't had the kind of breakdowns people feared," said Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, a nonpartisan project that monitors election administration.

Perhaps the most bizarre barrier to voting was a truck that hit a utility pole in St. Paul, Minn., knocking out power to two polling stations for about 90 minutes. Voting continued at those sites, said Joe Mansky, Ramsey County's elections manager.

What was uncommon about Tuesday's contest was the sheer number of voters who descended on more than 7,000 election jurisdictions across the country. Voter registration numbers are up 7.3 percent from the last presidential election.

"We saw people standing in lines for hours and hours because voting machines weren't working. I have a hard time calling that smooth," said Pam Smith of Verified Voting, a nonprofit that tracks ballot issues.

Long waits, minor glitches, big smiles 11/04/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 8:54am]

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