Wednesday, November 5, 2008

California voters faced long lines, scattered problems

Associated Press reporter Amy Taxin wrote this articlesumming up the experience for California voters yesterday. Excerpts are below.

LOS ANGELES—California voters showed up hours early at the polls and waited in lines into the night, but they only encountered isolated problems in a historic election expected to set turnout records.

Overall, voting ran smoothly at polling sites throughout the state despite the logistical challenge of running an election for 17.3 million registered voters, many of whom were eager to elect an African-American president and vote on whether to ban gay marriage.

Vote tallies lasted into Wednesday for many counties because of heavy turnout and the shift to paper ballots after the secretary of state limited the use of touchscreen machines last year over security concerns.

In Los Angeles County, home to a quarter of the state's registered voters, an estimated 82.4 percent of voters cast ballots—up from 78.6 percent in 2004, according to a sample of precincts.

"Historical practice would lead us to believe this is going to exceed our previous record," said Dean Logan, the county's registrar of voters.

Record-breaking voter registration—which pushed the state's voter rolls 5 percent higher than in the 2004 presidential election—led officials to add precincts and poll workers and order more ballots to meet the demand. Voters were eager to cast ballots in the contentious race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

Power outages after light rainfall forced three Los Angeles area polling places to move outside, but the only other problems were reports of some poll workers showing up late, said Kate Folmar, spokeswoman for the secretary of state.

At many polling places, voters lined up hours before the polls opened after seeing hours-long lines at county registrar offices during early voting over the last week.

"People are waiting in a long line and are proud of it" said Patti Negri, who found people lined up at 6 a.m. at the Hollywood polling place she has overseen since 1990. "I've never seen anything like this."


In Los Angeles County, some poll workers feared they would run out of ballots due to the crowds. About 100,000 additional ballots were delivered to poll sites to meet heavy demand, Logan said.

Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, said many voters were not on the rolls at their polling places and ended up submitting provisional ballots, which must be verified before they can be counted in the coming weeks.

"I think it was clearly a day where the huge voter turnout overwhelmed Los Angeles County's voting system," she said.

In Stanislaus County, a voter asked for help when he saw his Spanish-language ballot was marked for Obama. He said a second ballot he received had been similarly marked.

Registrar Lee Lundrigan said a field inspector checked all the remaining ballots, which were "unmarked and clean." Both ballots were voided and sent to county offices for examination.

In San Diego County, several voters reported electioneering near polling places over the proposition to ban gay marriage. In Santa Clara County, some touchscreen machines—which are provided for disabled voters—broke down and had to be replaced.
Nearly 4.3 million people had cast their ballots by mail by Tuesday afternoon, according to a statewide association of election officials. But that leaves nearly 3 million mail-in ballots outstanding—many which may have been dropped off at polling places before they closed.

Election officials in San Bernardino and Riverside counties—which shifted to paper ballots this year—expect to be tallying ballots into Wednesday or Thursday.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said voter turnout could reach 80 percent. About 76 percent of the state's eligible voters cast ballots for president in 2004.

"We had no major meltdowns," Alexander said. "I think, overall, we had a successful election today."

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