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New Technology, Procedures, High Turnout Test US Electoral Machinery

3 November 2004

After the contentious election of 2000, which hinged on a handful of votes in Florida, Congress and many of the states put new voter technology and electoral procedures into place.  Pre-election polls pictured an extremely close contest this year.  The intense voter interest is straining the new electoral machinery.


Memories of the bitter battles over the vote four years ago brought heightened vigilance as well as new items to the polling place, such as touch-screen computerized voting and provisional ballots.


But, as Doug Chapin of the Election Reform Information Project, a non-partisan monitoring group, says actual problems were few and far between.


"Overall, I would characterize the day as 'no big but lots of littles' in terms of problems," he said.  "We haven't seen anything of the size or scope of what happened in Florida in 2000.  We are seeing lots of scattered problems."


Electoral monitors say what problems that did arise were in large part because of the voter turnout.  Across the country, voters stood in long lines, sometimes for hours, to cast ballots.  Chellie Pingree, president of the public interest group Common Cause, says many states were not prepared to smoothly handle such an upsurge in voters.


"They didn't deal with many of the tricky problems," she said.  "And we're still finding polling places with machines that don't work efficiently, with untrained poll workers with too many problems, and just not enough people to handle them."


Touch-screen voting machines, used in 29 states and Washington DC for the first time, failed at some precincts, delaying voting.  In some states, voters said they had never received absentee ballots they had requested.  Under new procedures, they were allowed to cast provisional ballots, ballots subject to verification of the voter's eligibility.


Doug Chapin says the voter turnout strained the system.


"I think that any system is going to be under pressure because of high turnout," he explained.  "I mean, when you've got a combination of new procedures and large numbers of voters, which we have in many jurisdictions, I think there will be some pressure."


Procedures and technology differ from state to state because most electoral rules are set by the states, not by the federal government.  Some states, nervous about the security or cost of the new computerized voting technology, have remained with paper or punch-card ballots.