Problems hit US elections

Allegations of voter intimidation and problems with electronic voting machines hampered the crucial US midterm elections today as Americans went to the polls in the battle for control of Congress.

In Virginia, where the race for the Senate has been high-profile and bitterly-fought, the FBI was investigating complaints of phone calls to residents trying to mislead them into not voting or going to the wrong place.

The Republican incumbent there, George Allen, is locked in a neck-to-neck fight for his political life with Democratic challenger Jim Webb.

Elsewhere programming errors and inexperience dealing with electronic voting machines caused delays in several states.

A third of Americans are voting on new equipment and the electorate is also navigating new registration databases and changed ID rules brought in in the wake of the ballot chaos in Florida in the 2000 presidential election.

Activist groups, who had been worried about polling problems even before election day, said they were not surprised.

In Delaware County, Indiana, voting hours were extended because voters initially could not cast ballots in 75 precincts.

Over in Marion County, about 175 of the 914 precincts had to give up and turn to paper because poll workers did not know how to run the machines.

Some voters had to do the same in Pennsylvania’s Lebanon County, where polls were also set to stay open longer as a result.

In Colorado there were snaking queues due to computer problems and a long ballot with many choices.

Even the Democratic candidate for governor, Bill Ritter, had to wait an hour and 40 minutes to vote.

Meanwhile power failures caused problems in Denver, knocking out laptops used to verify voter registration.

Doug Chapin, director of Electionline.org, which tracks voting changes, said the problems were to be expected.

“With as much change as we had, expecting things to go absolutely smoothly at the beginning of the day is too optimistic.”

But voting equipment companies blamed the problems mainly on human error and said nothing unusual had happened.

“Any time there’s more exposure to equipment, there are questions about setting up the equipment and things like that,” said Ken Fields of Election Systems & Software.

“Overall, things are going very well.”

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