Pundits, pollsters, wags and spin doctors have been screaming for weeks about the potential logistical nightmares surrounding this year's elections. Late-night political talk show hosts have boomed that elections all across the nation, held in the midst of one of the most closely contested presidential races in recent memory, would be fraught with more than a little sneakery, miscommunication and ineptitude. Though no Floridian hanging chads had identified themselves by press time, it's already clear that the pundits were right.
The biggest problems concerned electronic voting systems. Voters in all 39 states using the systems reported problems -- that includes battleground states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Many voters, when offered alternatives to the busted machines, refused alternatives (sample ballots in Los Angeles, absentee ballots in Florida), saying they would come back later when the terminals were back up, rather than use paper ballots.
Here's a look at Election Day from around the nation:
OH: Many voters in Ohio who had requested absentee ballots but had not received them by Election Day were told by elections officials that they would not be able to vote. Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell told voters they would not be able to vote with a provisional ballot. The decision was reversed later by a U.S. District Court Judge, but election watchers suggest that the debacle had already shaken thousands from the polls.
Also, on Monday a federal judge banned political "challengers" from Ohio polling places during the election. Then the ruling was overturned. Similar issues popped up in numerous states, including just-as-hotly-contested Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, as representatives from political parties showed up at the polls to scrutinize, then challenge the eligibility of voters. Critics of the challengers say that the operatives targeted minority voters.
SD: On Monday, Democratic U.S. Senator Tom Daschle asked a judge for a temporary restraining order to stop Republicans from deploying watchdogs on voters in heavily Native American counties. The judge granted a partial order, putting the restrictions in place only in one county. Early Indian voters in Charles Mix County say they were dogged by GOP operatives who followed them out of the polls and wrote down their license plate numbers. Republicans say it's just a slick trick on the part of Daschle, who is seeking re-election in a close race.
MI: Beginning Sunday afternoon, voters in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint and Pontiac received phone calls falsely claiming that John Kerry would make gay marriage legal if he became president. The recorded calls told voters "Without John Kerry, George Bush will stop gay marriage. So Tuesday, stand up for gay marriage by supporting John Kerry." Republicans denied making the calls. Other voters have gotten calls from someone purporting to be with the Bush campaign and then blasting out a blue streak of profanity. Dick Cheney could not be reached for comment.
Milwaukee, Ohio and Tucscon heard a similar tune. There, voters received calls either directing them to incorrect poll sites, or informing them that as patriotic citizens it was their right to vote... on Nov. 3. In the Tucscon case, the calls were traced back to the local GOP.
FL: Despite providing the background for one of America's worst election debacles in 2000, for the most part, Florida kept its cool this time around. But it wasn't entirely unscathed. Early voting yielded rumors of problems with computer mainframes. Some voters using electronic systems reported making their selection and then seeing the opposite selection marked on the screen. Or finding candidates pre-selected. On Sunday, a photojournalist taking pictures of voters waiting outside a polling station was knocked down, punched and arrested by police. And Broward County saw flawed registration cards pointing voters to the wrong polling stations, while at one poll site a brief fracas erupted when scofflaws tried to block voters' access to the polls. Other than that... surprisingly peaceful. A spokesperson from the People for the American Way Foundation called the state's troubles "not a conflagration, but a series of brush fires."
LA: The real loser in Tuesday's elections so far appears to be New Orleans, where reports suggest that as of mid-afternoon on Election Day, 40 precints had yet to register a vote due to machine malfunctions at dozens of precincts. It's estimated that the malfunctions prevented thousands from voting. Also, many first-time voters were told they couldn't use the standard electronic voting systems. Instead, they were told to fill out provisional ballots, which often didn't include all state elections. Louisiana Secretary of State Fox McKeithen said that the problem, however, wasn't faulty voting machines, but "roving bands of lawyers." A request by voting activists for a judge to consider extending poll hours until 10pm, in order to offset the state's many voting problems, was evidently denied. Still, despite computer glitches and flooding streets, lines at pollsite in New Orleans, as elsewhere, were robust.
All in all, it appears that the biggest problems facing Election 2004 so far have been computer malfunction and, as Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton predicted last week, pesky provisional ballots.
Spokane County elections supervisor Paul Brandt estimates that his department handed out between 6,000 and 10,000 provisional ballots on Tuesday, but said the county experienced only minor elections problems.
As of press time, Spokane County had tallied 117,651 votes, with 54,738 absentee ballots still to be counted and many more yet to arrive in the mail over the following days.