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Glitches mar voting but apparently don't tarnish outcome

WASHINGTON — Waits up of to seven hours, voting machine failures and registration glitches hindered balloting Tuesday in scattered areas of the key states of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida but appeared to do little to affect the outcome of the presidential race.

Early balloting by as many as 31 million people eased congestion at polls across much of the nation, and bottlenecks appeared to inconvenience just a small percentage of voters. There were only isolated allegations of voter fraud and no complaints of large-scale challenges of voters' eligibility at polling places.

About 1,000 people stood in line at a precinct in Detroit, and voters at polling places in Michigan, New Jersey and Colorado also encountered lengthy delays.

In Blacksburg, Va., nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, thousands of students at Virginia Tech University had to travel six miles to vote at a church, where a snake-shaped chalk line kept hundreds of people in a queue as they waited for hours. Three precincts in Kansas City, Mo., received the wrong poll books, temporarily forcing voters to file provisional ballots.

The sporadic voting delays left some election experts dismayed at the lack of progress since the tumultuous 2000 presidential race, which went undecided for weeks while judges scrutinized ballots in Florida. Congress reacted to that divisive election by allotting billions of dollars to fix the nation's electoral system.

A record 153.1 million Americans were registered to vote Tuesday in the first presidential race since states began to carry out Congress' mandate that they upgrade their voting equipment. Except for manpower shortages at the polls amid a heavy turnout, most of Tuesday's problems appeared to emanate from the failures of new touch-screen and optical-scan voting equipment.

``I think that the most heartening story of the past 22 months is this new political exuberance,'' said Jonah Goldman, a coordinator of the Election Protection coalition, the nation's largest nonprofit watchdog over Tuesday's balloting. ``Unfortunately, we haven't had the same escalation in resources for elections.''

After the bitterly fought presidential races of 2000 and 2004, legions of election monitors bird-dogged voting for civil rights groups and both major political parties. Voters flooded election hot lines with reports of problems, real or perceived.

The Election Protection coalition, led by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, deployed more than 10,000 volunteer monitors and reported receiving more than 80,000 phone inquiries and reports of problems by 6:30 p.m. EST.

The coalition said that in Virginia, thousands of voters might have grown discouraged and dropped out of lengthy lines at the polls.

Goldman criticized the registrar in Montgomery County, Va., because voters, most of them Virginia Tech students, had to converge on St. Michael's Lutheran Church six miles away.

``It sure feels like they're trying to keep students away from voting in this election,'' he said.

County Registrar E. Randall Wertz said the church had served as that precinct's polling place since 2004 and that all he could do was add voting machines after a late surge in registrations increased the number of voters in the precinct by 1,800 to more than 5,800.

The Election Protection coalition charged that poll workers improperly used machine malfunctions in Virginia and elsewhere as grounds for requiring voters to submit provisional ballots rather than regular paper ballots, forcing some citizens to return within a few days with documentation to prove their eligibility.

Anne Atkins, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Board of Elections, said that some precincts had brief problems with the optical scanners that count votes on paper ballots, but ``there've been no widespread serious problems" and that most voting went smoothly.

In Pennsylvania, the coalition reported touch-screen malfunctions in at least a dozen locations, mainly in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas. Voters in a number of precincts across the state complained that they'd requested absentee ballots but never received them.

Optical scan problems also plagued 35 precincts in 15 Florida counties, slowing balloting, said Jon Greenbaum, the director of the Voting Rights Project for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

In Ohio, which was crucial to President Bush's victory in 2004, absentee voting by 1.46 million people seemed to reduce lines at the polls.

Jeff Ortega, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, said that he knew of no precinct where voters had to wait more than an hour.

McCain-Palin campaign officials alleged that "troubling instances" of voter fraud and intimidation had been directed at Republican voters in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Virginia. In one incident, they accused members of the New Black Panthers of blocking voters from a polling place in Philadelphia.

Matt Carrothers, a spokesman for the Georgia secretary of state, confirmed that the agency is investigating allegations in a television report that three Georgia men voted early twice, once in Florida and once in Georgia.

While Tuesday's election disputes immediately became the new ground war for the parties and their allies, armies of lawyers remained active in the courts.

The Ohio Republican Party filed papers Tuesday seeking to reinstate a suit accusing Brunner of improperly permitting more than 13,000 absentee votes and sanctioning the eligibility of 600,000 voters whose registration information didn't exactly match data in state driver's license or Social Security databases.

On Monday, the McCain-Palin campaign sued Virginia's Board of Elections, demanding that the state give military service members and overseas voters an extra 10 days, until Nov. 14, to submit their ballots.

(Marisa Taylor contributed to this article.)


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