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Election Day Woes: Some Question Voting Machines, Ask for Later Closing of Polls

November 7, 2006 at 6:05 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Good evening from Washington. I’m Jim Lehrer, and I welcome you to this NewsHour special edition.

What the voters decide today and what it all means is the story, of course. Going in, the polls and pundits said the Democrats will likely take control of the U.S. House of Representatives, with the U.S. Senate remaining majority Republican. But we shall see.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

REP. JIM MORAN (D), Virginia: Jim Moran. Nice to see you. Thank you.

KWAME HOLMAN: Candidates got started early this Election Day…

REP. TOM DAVIS (D), Virginia: Thanks for voting.

KWAME HOLMAN: … appearing at the crack of dawn…

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: Good morning, good morning.

VOTER: You have my vote!

KWAME HOLMAN: … for a last-minute push for votes. Leaving his polling place near his Crawford, Texas, ranch, President Bush, alongside the first lady, offered an appeal to all voters.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: No matter what your party affiliation or if you don’t have a party affiliation, do your duty. Cast your ballot, and let your voice be heard.

KWAME HOLMAN: The big prize is majority control of the Congress; 33 Senate seats and all 435 House seats are to be decided.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), Pennsylvania: I feel good about what we’ve accomplished, and I feel very, very confident that we’re going to surprise a lot of people tonight.

KWAME HOLMAN: But even this morning, many key races still were too close to call. Virginia Republican Senator George Allen appeared calm as he tossed a football with his supporters and potential voters at the polls.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), Virginia: There you go! All right, on to victory, team! Thank you all!

KWAME HOLMAN: He was in a tight re-election race against Democrat Jim Webb…

RALLY GROUP: Jim Webb! Jim Webb!

KWAME HOLMAN: … whose supporters rallied around him at his polling center. Webb told them he hoped his hard work will pay off.

JIM WEBB (D), Candidate for Virginia Senate: This is in the hands of all the other voters.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today also was a day many voters tested out new electronic voting machines. About a third used new equipment.

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), Pennsylvania: I still can’t get used to it, because you used to have the sound of when you pulled the lever.

VOTER: Yes, there’s no click or anything.

GOV. ED RENDELL: Although this is much easier for…

Computer glitches and errors

KWAME HOLMAN: But in other states, it wasn't so easy. Thousands of voters were forced to wait in long lines in Ohio because of computer glitches and human error.

VOTER: I got here early. It still took me 30 or 40 minutes to vote.

KWAME HOLMAN: Election officials in one Indiana county and one in Pennsylvania extended polling hours after the problems prevented them from opening on time.

KAREN WENGER, Indiana County Clerk: I think that we need to allow every voter that might not have been able to vote this morning a chance to go back after work.

KWAME HOLMAN: And in South Carolina, Governor Mark Sanford was turned away because he didn't have proper identification.

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), South Carolina: We're going to vote here shortly. It just may take a little bit longer than first anticipated.

KWAME HOLMAN: But in Maryland, a state that experienced problems with electronic voting machines during its primary, officials said they had worked out most of the hiccups.

Another factor possibly affecting voter turnout: the weather. On the East Coast, it was clear for at least part of the day. Rain cut a sizable swathe across the nation, from Washington State to the Midwest, flooding some areas. Bad weather threatened voter turnout in several key races.

GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), Michigan: Don't let the rain deter you. This is a day when you've got to let your voice be heard.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan was trying to keep her job in one of the 36 gubernatorial races today, from Massachusetts to California. Meanwhile, the attention for most of the day focused on the House of Representatives, where the magic net gain number for Democrats to take over was 15.