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Storm chaos sets election obstacle course
by Staff Writers
Hoboken, New Jersey (AFP) Nov 6, 2012

Vote glitch reports pile up in US election
Washington (AFP) Nov 6, 2012 - Voting went smoothly in Tuesday's US elections, except when it didn't.

Some computer problems, as well as human ones, drew complaints across the country as millions of Americans went to the polls.

One Pennsylvania voter highlighted a problem with voting machines on YouTube, complete with video, in which a touchscreen changed his choice from President Barack Obama to Republican Mitt Romney.

"I initially selected Obama but Romney was highlighted," the man wrote. "I assumed it was being picky so I deselected Romney and tried Obama again, this time more carefully, and still got Romney."

This was not the first allegation of foul-ups with electronic machines.

In Ohio, some Republicans claimed machines were changing Romney votes to Obama, while Democrats accused Republican state officials of installing untested "experimental" software at the last minute.

To make matters worse in the crucial swing state, some voting machines were malfunctioning in parts of the Cleveland area, said The Plain Dealer, which quoted election officials as saying ballots would be counted even if scanning machines were down.

In New Jersey, a late decision to allow voters displaced by superstorm Sandy to cast ballots by email caused confusion and frustration.

"Oh no! email box for Essex County Clerk's box is full. No one can email in their ballots," said a tweet from one resident.

Betsy Morais, a writer for The New Yorker, found similar glitches. Her email bounced back.

"I tried again, and once more the message failed. It took three tries to get through to the clerk's office by phone. 'Oh, you can just go online to our Web site to find the ballot and fax it in,' I was told. I was confused."

Another source of confusion was a last-minute modification, hours before polls opened, stipulating that voters needed to mail in paper ballots as a verification of the email vote.

The news website Buzzfeed reported that in two major New Jersey counties, email addresses advertised on the county clerk's website were down, and that one county clerk posted his hotmail address on Facebook for voters.

That in turn prompted a Facebook response from one netizen, who said, "Using your personal hotmail address for official use is very dangerous and quite likely illegal."

In Benton County, Arkansas, officials ran out of paper ballots, local television reported. Voters, who normally have an option to vote electronically or on paper, only had the e-vote option.

Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said that in Pennsylvania, some voters were told they needed photo identification, even though state law has no such requirement.

"This is the fault of the Pennsylvania state government," Arnwine said, noting that Pennsylvania passed a voter ID law, but a court blocked it from being enforced.

An "election protection hotline" set up up the lawyers' committee said voters complained of "chaos" in some Florida precincts, with waits of up to five hours.

In Palm Beach County, Florida, epicenter of the 2000 punch card debacle, local television reported voting was delayed by a printing machine malfunction.

Elsewhere in Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported that hundreds of voters received automated "robo-calls" telling them the election was Wednesday.

An official told the paper a glitch in the phone system allowed the calls to go through early Tuesday, telling voters the election was "tomorrow."

"We stopped it immediately when we found out about it," Pinellas County elections supervisor spokeswoman Nancy Whitlock told the newspaper.

A similar glitch was reported in the US capital city Washington.

Adora Agim had lined up before dawn to vote in Hoboken, New Jersey, but already the sun was up and the doors to her polling station in the storm-ravaged city remained shut.

"This is unacceptable. We have been here since six, and some of us before that," Agim, 38, complained as a volunteer polling official tried to placate the growing, grumbling crowd of about 60 people on a street lined with flood debris from superstorm Sandy.

Finally the station opened, 40 minutes late.

"Please excuse the appearance of this place. Two days ago it was under two feet of water," the official apologized.

"You're really late," another voter repeated.

Hoboken, across the Hudson River from New York City, was hammered during hurricane-strength Sandy last week. Much of the town was inundated by the storm surge, power was knocked out for several days, and thousands of people lost their homes.

The aftermath of the natural disaster made Tuesday's presidential election a voting obstacle course, with dozens of polling stations in New Jersey and New York forced to relocate because of storm damage.

Agim, a software engineer hoping for President Barack Obama's re-election, said when she called officials Monday, she was told to go to her regular neighborhood polling place.

As instructed, she went to the designated school in the near-freezing pre-dawn, only to find a scene of disarray and "a note on the door" telling her to go two blocks to an alternate site, a senior services center.

But there, the late opening reflected that even replacement facilities weren't having an easy time.

Garbage and oily mud from the flood lined the sidewalks outside, with furniture, bits of broken drywall, plastic bags, and scattered items including a Woody Allen DVD piled waist-high in places.

John Margolis, a 46-year-old investment banker supporting Republican Mitt Romney, discovered when he got inside that the electronic voting machine was not working.

He was told to join another line to fill out a paper ballot. That queue was too long and he decided to return later in the day -- perhaps enough time to change his mind about whom to vote for.

"Fiscally, I am 100 percent behind Romney, or I was until last week," said Margolis, who added that he had been impressed with the Obama administration's response to the storm. "It has been a long week in Hoboken," he said.

The harried polling officials had their own problems. When three pizzas were delivered for a late lunch, they turned out to be cold.

"We'll just put them near a heater," one official said.

"No, there's no heater working," another replied glumly.

New Jersey is a Democratic stronghold and the organizational difficulties shouldn't influence the result of the presidential election. The same goes for New York, where there were also scattered voting delays in neighborhoods hit hard by Sandy.

But some in Hoboken, which was among the most heavily flooded areas in the October 29 storm, said it was unfair to hold such an important election when many people were still trying to get the basics of life together.

"It should have been cancelled for two weeks to get people back in their houses," retired city housing inspector Jude Fitzgibbons, 65, said after voting for Obama.

"People involved in this storm should have been able to step back and take a deep breath," he said. "People are worrying about putting a roof over their heads, feeding their kids. They should have waited. There would have been more calm."

New Jersey authorities made the novel decision to allow voting by email for people displaced in the storm, but another Hoboken resident, Frances Rhodes-Kearns, scoffed at that idea.

"We were displaced and just got back to our home. But although we've got a laptop, we have no Wi-Fi," said Rhodes-Kearns, 59.

Vivian Hasbrouk, 44, saw chest-deep flooding in her street on the west side of Hoboken and spent two days marooned with her two young children in a third floor apartment. While the floods have receded and she was able to vote, many others would keep away, she said.

"The four or five elderly people we check up regularly on in our street, I doubt they'll be coming. It's cold," she said. "Our block was hit hard."

Anecdotal evidence suggested a mixed turnout in Hoboken.

On the side of town hit harder by the storm, polling station officials reported average traffic, while in a relatively untouched neighborhood to the east, one official said: "It's much higher than in 2008. We had a line out onto the street this morning."

Agim, an immigrant from Nigeria, said the chaos shouldn't prevent voting. "I have lived in a Third World country where your vote does not matter," she said. "It's nice to be somewhere where it matters."

Volunteer campaigners braving the cold to hand out leaflets concerning local election issues agreed.

"I think for people in Hoboken it's important to vote, even more so. It's like, 'Yes, Sandy, we're going to come out and vote,'" Arthur MacDonald, 21, said as he distributed flyers on the board of education race.


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