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electionline.org SPECIAL REPORT: Election Day 2002

Wednesday, November 06, 2002
SPECIAL REPORT: Election Day 2002


SPECIAL REPORT: Election Day 2002


The first federal election since November 2000 turned the national spotlight on more than just the race for control of Congress and governors’ mansions.


Two years after the American public learned of butterfly ballots, pregnant chad and provisional voting, the administration of elections became more than just an interesting footnote. In three states, voting itself – not just the candidates and campaigns – faced intense scrutiny.


In Miami-Dade and Broward counties in South Florida, election officials looked to atone for voting disasters in September’s primary.


Georgia officials watched millions of dollars in state investment and rigorous training of both poll workers and voters pay off as new touch-screen machines were rolled out for the first time.


In Missouri, new procedures and a troubled past of fraud and voter intimidation in St. Louis had poll watchers, state officials and political party lawyers prepared for mayhem that never materialized.


electionline.org staff writers were on hand in all three locations from the moment polls opened until they shut down, talking to voters, poll workers and election officials.



Machines Pass First Test in Georgia

By Matt Courtney

ATLANTA, Georgia – State officials saw how bad things could get two months ago when they watched a disaster unfold in South Florida.


The introduction of new machines and polling place procedures seemed to make everything go wrong – and all at the same time. Polls opened late, voters were turned away, machines froze, tabulation cartridges were missing and poll workers showed up late and sometimes not at all. And the nation watched as Florida once again proved that despite new money and new laws designed to make voting better, things reverted to their November 2000 form.


In an election with so many important close races – and with memories of South Florida’s second election debacle firmly fixed in everyone’s minds – the new voting equipment was under the microscope Tuesday. 


And judging by voter response, the new touch screen machines were a success. 


“I was much more comfortable with the new machines,” said Atlanta voter Craig Bowles. “I mean, the punch cards were awful. They really sped things up for me and I really like how you can review everything before you finish.”


Anat Alperin, who cast her vote just before Bowles, said her activation card, which allows a vote to be cast, was rejected by the machine twice. But she said she was unfazed.


“I got [the machine] up and running it worked fine,” she said. “I don’t know about elderly voters but for me it was easier.”


A number of poll workers said older voters seemed to take to the high-tech machines, contradicting the arguments put forth by some skeptics that touch screens could befuddle those without computer experience.


“People seem to like them” said Tanjela Johnson, a poll manager in a precinct near Piedmont Park.


While state and local officials and most voters proclaimed the day a stunning success for the new machines and Georgia’s new polling place rules, some expressed concerns about the absence of a paper trail.


James Reed, an elderly voter in southeastern Atlanta said he was “really worried” that there was no tangible evidence of his ballot, just information on a memory chip.


Other problems occasionally surfaced as well, outside of the city. Reports of sporadic and widespread issues came from around the state during the day.


●Voters in Chatham County jammed the activation cards in the wrong slot on the

machine prompting poll workers to put masking tape over the gap.


●There was one access card for 14 machines in a Union City polling place during

the morning hours. Voters had to wait about an hour to cast their ballot while

additional cards were rushed to the precinct.


●In Dekalb County there were reports that batteries that power the touch screen

machines were not fully charged due to late set up Tuesday morning and caused

the machines to die.


●The Georgia Republican Party received complaints from 14 counties about voters

attempting to vote Republican and having machines repeatedly registering Democratic votes. Voters notified poll workers and, reportedly, fixed their ballots before casting their votes.


Broward County Sets Things Right

By Ivan Sciupac

Special to electionline.org


POMPANO BEACH, Florida – Nestled in northern Broward County, the epicenter of Florida’s election fiasco in November 2000 and last September’s primary, Sanders Park houses a community of politically active retirees who consistently produce some of the highest voter turnouts in the area.


The 50-year-old predominantly black community, comprised of residents described by one resident as “retired tired people,” held its first federal election since the November 2000 fiasco.


In perhaps the most eagerly watched election in the country, Sanders Park’s voting machines worked with few glitches. Voters took little time to cast their ballots and many said they were pleased with how smooth Election Day went.


Hours of poll worker training, countless rehearsals and early voting appeared to have paid off for Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which were itching to shed their dubious reputations earned in the last two elections.


The two counties – which comprise more than 20 percent of Florida’s 9.3 million voters – used new touch-screen voting machines for the first time in September, hoping to prevent problems with over-votes and spoiled ballots that plagued many counties using punch cards two years before.


But many poll workers that day were unsure how to use the equipment, leading to an embarrassing episode of long lines, a frustrated electorate and delays in tallying results.


Some predicted a three-peat of the state’s election disasters yesterday. A longer than usual ballot worried some officials, who feared long lines. Pre-election polls predicted a close race for governor (Republican Jeb Bush won re-election handily over Democrat Bill McBride) that could have exacerbated any problems at the polls with the possibility of recounts and contested votes.


Election officials, however, promised an improvement, pointing to their efforts to train poll workers more thoroughly and promote its six early voting locations as a means of avoiding long lines.


As the day unfolded, it appeared they would be right.


The precinct at Martin Luther King Elementary School in Washington Park opened on time at 7 a.m., with poll workers arriving up to two hours early to set up the 10 voting machines. Dozens of voters were standing patiently in line by 6:30 a.m., and most said it took them between five and 10 minutes to cast their ballot.


“I studied the ballot since last week; I wrote everything down,” said Susie Dorsett, who added that she was not sure her vote counted in the last election. “I felt like I did it in vain [two years ago].”


Though most precincts yesterday pulled off the election relatively error-free, there were isolated problems throughout the day.


Officials from Election Protection, a group of civil rights advocates affiliated with People for the American Way who tracked Election Day difficulties around the country reported incidents in which voting machines malfunctioned and needed to be recalibrated.  In some cases, voters would choose a particular candidate, but the touch-screen machines would select a different candidate.


“It could be a total anomaly with no bearing on the outcome or it could be a widespread problem,” said Stuart Ratzan, a lawyer for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride.


As it turned out, the former was correct.


Redistricting and construction caused hassles as well at the First Church of God in Ft. Lauderdale. The polling place was slammed by voters who had been directed to the precinct by a sign at their designated polling place, which indicated it was closed for renovations.


Poll clerk Patricia Hankinson estimated 200 voters incorrectly tried to vote there, saying she spent most of the day trying to find their correct precinct.


“It’s the last year I’d do it like this,” said Christine Benincasa, who went to three polling places trying to vote yesterday. “I’m doing it absentee ballot from now on. This is miserable.”


As the polls closed at 7 p.m., many voters scrambled to find their voting locations. Sharon Thompson, of Sawgrass, missed two buses and was delayed by another that broke down, but still made it to the First Church of God two minutes before it closed, running down the last block.


“I almost broke my neck trying to get here to vote,” Thompson said as she stood last in line last night. “I need my vote to count. I want things to be changed. Waiting for 30 minutes in line now is the easy part.”


No Calamities in St. Louis

By Aron Goetzl


The ingredients for election chaos in St. Louis yesterday were in place, but the recipe never came together as it did here in 2000.


Though Missouri implemented new voter identification and provisional balloting

procedures for 2002 and the state featured an extremely competitive U.S. Senate race, voting went smoothly in the Show Me State's largest city yesterday. Only minor

glitches – a late election judge and some misprinted ballots – plagued the

city's voting.


Larger problems had been expected following the 2000 disaster, in which a larger-than-anticipated turnout created long lines at some city polling places and led to some eligible voters being turned away from the polls while some unregistered voters were  permitted to cast ballots.


Late on Election Night 2000, voters gathered at the city Elections Board to demand that polls remain open after their 7 p.m. closing time. A local judge originally granted that request, but the ruling was quickly overturned. The chaos and controversy in St. Louis sparked Republican Sen. Kit Bond’s, R-Mo., interest in a federal election reform bill.


This year, the downtown Elections Board was a sea of relative tranquility when the polls closed around the city. Only a handful of voters waited in the lobby to cast provisional ballots, with some being given those ballots with a warning from city officials that casting a provisional vote did not necessarily mean it would be counted.


Overall, city officials said they were pleased with the debut of provisional ballots, noting that not many were cast yesterday.


One change that likely contributed to the smooth voting process was the addition of several hundred city employees to the normal pool of poll workers. In a move sparked by the recent settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over the 2000 irregularities, city employees were granted responsibility for handling the "inactive voter" lists at each precinct this year. Those poll workers said they encountered few problems yesterday.


Civil rights groups that traveled here to monitor possible voting problems found few to document.


"We have not had the calamities that we were expecting," said Delisa Saunders of People for the American Way at midday. "We've not had any serious issues with [provisional balloting]."    


electionline Weekly is produced by the staff of the Election Reform Information Project, a non-partisan, non-advocacy research effort supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts and administered by the University of Richmond. More information about the Project and up-to-the-minute news on election reform throughout the week can be found at electionline.org.


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