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On Election Day, Some Glitches Reported

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There are reports that some voters have experienced problems today casting their ballots, although voting in most places appears to be going smoothly. NPR's Pam Fessler is tracking this issue for us. And Pam, what kinds of problems are you hearing about?

PAM FESSLER: Well, I'd say the biggest thing that we've seen today are lines, lines, and more lines, which could be good and bad. There have been scattered problems around, but nothing I would call a major disruption. There's this coalition of voting rights groups called Election Protection. They're getting calls from voters. They've received more than 32,000 calls so far. And a lot of them have been complaining about the long lines. And one of their biggest concerns has been in the state of Virginia. And one area, especially down in Chesapeake, Virginia, near Norfolk, lines have been six and seven hours long. And part of it is because machines have broken down and the system is just overloaded.

We've also heard long lines in Michigan, in Pennsylvania. At Penn State this morning, there were a thousand students waiting to vote. And then we got reports - NPR's Larry Abramson is in the St. Louis area. And he said out in the suburbs at midday today, there were waits of up to five hours. And he said in some places there weren't enough judges to accept voters coming in and check their registrations and that there were also some voters who were reluctant to use the touch-screen voting machines because they'd heard about votes flipping. So they were waiting for paper ballots so they could use an optical scan machine. But he said then in some precincts they ran out of the pens that voters needed to mark those ballots.

BLOCK: Physically ran out of the pens themselves.

FESSLER: Yeah, they were running low on them.

BLOCK: Pam, you mentioned machines breaking down. What kinds of mechanical problems have you been hearing about today?

FESSLER: Well, I - it's kind of interesting because we always hear so much about the touch-screen voting machines, but a lot of the reports that we've heard today have been with the optical scan machines which some jurisdictions, say in the state of Florida, have used to replace the touch-screen voting machines. These optical scan machines, basically the voter fills out a paper ballot. It is run into the machine. The machine counts it, pops it out if it's a problem.

But what we've found is some of the - we've heard reports that some of the optical scan machines in some precincts have been jamming. They're paper jams or getting overloaded. And there have also been reports in areas such as Virginia and North Carolina about problems with wet ballots. Voters have been standing out in the line, out in the rain. And when they come in, their clothes are wet. They're given their paper ballots, and the ballots are getting wet, and then they get jammed in the machines because they're too soggy. So they have to set them aside, wait for them to dry, and they'll count them later.

BLOCK: Wow.

FESSLER: We've also heard a few - you know, we continue to have these problems with hearing voters receiving deceptive phone calls and misleading information and signs that they're told that their polling place is somewhere else, that they might get arrested if they have an outstanding warrant. This morning, one of our callers told us that at George Mason University, an email went out to the entire student - to the entire university community telling them that Election Day was tomorrow. And it was signed by the provost of the university. He of course later had to send out an email saying no, no, that didn't come from me. Somebody hacked into my system. Voting is today.

BLOCK: Well, this is a huge range of problems that you're describing. What are some of the remedies to try to fix? What's going on today?

FESSLER: Well, for the most part, we really actually haven't seen a lot of litigation yet. We expect a lot - now, that could come later in the day. But mostly the voter rights groups and the campaigns have been working with election officials, trying to see if they can help rectify these problems while voters are there. For example, in the Chesapeake, Virginia, case, the local registrar has sent down extra workers there, and it looks like those lines are being cut in half.

There was some talk about maybe going to court to extend voting hours in Virginia, but that looks like it's not going to happen now. And there's a lot of reluctance to do that because if they do, then voters who cast ballots after they've extended the hours have to cast a provisional ballot. And as you know, those are counted later on.

BLOCK: But if you're standing in line by the time the polls close, you should be allowed to vote no matter how long it takes you to get through that line?

FESSLER: Exactly. If you're in line at 7 o'clock and the polls close at seven, even if you don't vote till midnight, you'll get to vote. And they're trying to get that message out.

BLOCK: Very briefly, Pam, we saw huge problems obviously in 2000, and things were supposed to be better. What's happened?

FESSLER: Well, I think what it is partly, we have such a huge crowd today that the system is being tested like it's never been tested before. We also have much more scrutiny. Every single thing that happens in voting places is watched by someone, so every teeny little problem gets noticed.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Pam Fessler, thanks very much.

FESSLER: Glad to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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United States & World Morning EditionAll Things Considered
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.