E-voting glitches give election watchers pause

More than a third of counties are administering elections this year on new equipment, according to a report released this fall.

Few catastrophic breakdowns of e-voting equipment were reported during the initial hours of voting Tuesday, but civil liberties advocates said that glitches reported in some states suggested systemic problems in the nation's election systems.

According to a report released this fall by Election Data Services, more than a third of counties are administering elections this year on new equipment. In an afternoon teleconference, Jonah Goldman of the Lawyers' Community for Civil Rights Under Law said that by noon, a steady flow of complaints had been heard from voters in Ohio.

The organization helped lead an effort by the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition to monitor and report e-voting problems throughout the country. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Voting Rights Institute and People for the American Way also were part of the effort.

According to Goldman, a hotline set up by Election Protection had received more than 9,000 complaints, many of them in Ohio.

AP also reported that struggles with e-voting machines caused long lines in several counties in the Buckeye State, including Cuyahoga County, the site of a disastrous spring primary. Some voters in the Cleveland area said that election officials there did not successfully activate machines until polls had been open for 10 minutes.

Matt Zimmerman, a staff attorney at EFF, said voters in Florida and Illinois also flagged early setbacks. He said EFF is preparing litigation in Broward County, Fla., where polls opened three hours late.

Various reports of e-voting trouble also streamed in from Colorado, Indiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Utah.

The Denver Post reported that Democrats in Colorado are calling for polling places to remain open longer because computer glitches caused lengthy backups in Denver. A spokesman for the Denver Election Commission attributed some of the computer snags to power failures in the city.

Election officials in the city said most of the problems were solved by mid-morning, but many voters were forced to leave for work before they were able to cast ballots.

E-voting news from polling places was relayed though Web logs during the day. Talking Points Memo reported of complete machine failures in Arlington Heights, Ill., and Sullivan County, Tenn. Power Line blog's forum also flagged setbacks in Pennsylvania. Technology Daily's new blog, Tech Daily Dose, reported some of the details as covered in the blogosphere.

There were even accounts of lawmakers and election officials having problems at the polls. CNN reported that South Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford was turned away from his precinct because he failed to provide sufficient identification.

Goldman said the early reports of e-voting snafus again highlighted Ohio as the state "where it's all happening." On the national scale, he said the early results were further evidence that officials at all levels of government are "bad consumers" when it comes to e-voting.