TOPICS > Politics

Voters Encounter Long Lines Amid Heavy Turnout

November 4, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT
Loading the player...
Polling stations across the nation reported unusually high voter turnout on Tuesday, with many casting ballots encountered long lines. NPR reporter Pam Fessler talks about how polling places fared on Election Day.

JIM LEHRER: And now, more on how the voting has gone today. There have been scattered glitches at polling places around the country. Jeffrey Brown has that story.

JEFFREY BROWN: And for a rundown of some of the problems voters have faced, I’m joined now by Pam Fessler, who’s been covering that part of the story for National Public Radio.

Well, Pam, the biggest question coming into today, really, was how the big expected turnouts would affect problems at the polling places. What do we know so far?

PAM FESSLER, National Public Radio: Well, as expected, we have seen huge lines in a lot of areas, especially when polls opened this morning in Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida. There were lots of people waiting on line.

And in some places during the course of the day, the lines were up to three, four, even five hours in a few places. But as you said, this was pretty much expected.

Interestingly, some of the states that saw the biggest lines during early voting, such as North Carolina and Georgia, they had fewer problems today. And I think that was a good example of how some of the early voting helped lighten the load today.

Some mechanical problems

JEFFREY BROWN: What about mechanical problems that have plagued many voting areas in different states in the past? Any glitches today?

PAM FESSLER: Yes, we certainly saw those machine glitches. A lot of them were to be expected, things where early in the morning some machines didn't start up, some precincts.

There was one precinct in Virginia that had to go to all-paper ballots because their machines weren't working.

There were also a lot of problems with some of the optical-scan machines, which are being used by a lot of states now instead of the touch-screen voting machines, because there have been so many problems with them in the past. But...

JEFFREY BROWN: Including Florida, right, which, as always...


JEFFREY BROWN: ... has a famous history with problems, right?

PAM FESSLER: Right, right. And in some jurisdictions of Florida, they're on their third set of equipment since 2000. And the optical-scan machines, some of them jammed because the paper jammed.

We had reports in Chesapeake, Virginia, and in North Carolina where some of the ballots got wet because voters were standing out in the rain. And when they came in, their clothes, their wet clothes, got -- some of the dampness got on the ballots, and then the ballots couldn't go in the machines because they weren't dry, so those had to be set aside.

We also had problems in Ohio with some voters making mistakes filling out the ballots, the paper ballots. They had to fill in an oval next to their choice, but there was also another line below that said, "Write in your candidate." Some people not only marked the candidate of their choice, but then wrote that person's name in, which is a double vote.

And generally this would be rejected by the machines, but the secretary of state has ordered that election boards try and determine the intent of voters in such cases.

And she was saying this is an example of the fact that we have so many new voters that showed up today that some were bound to make mistakes, because they were seeing equipment and voting techniques that they've never seen before.

No severe irregularities

JEFFREY BROWN: What about, Pam, any of the more pernicious possibilities of tampering or trying to keep people from voting?

PAM FESSLER: We actually haven't seen too much of that, although there were continued reports of something that we see every year in elections. And it's sort of hard to believe that it continues, but people getting phone calls and e-mails telling them that, if they show up at polling places, they might get arrested if they have an outstanding warrant, or that Election Day is tomorrow and not today.

In fact, at George Mason University here in northern Virginia, an e-mail went out -- it looked like it came from the provost of the university -- saying that Election Day was, in fact, tomorrow. But somebody actually had hacked into the computer system and the provost had to send out another e-mail to the university community saying, "No, no, Election Day is today."

JEFFREY BROWN: And let me just ask you briefly, Pam, I know both sides have armies of lawyers ready and watching all the polls. Any places, any states yet where we expect or there are calls to extend the voting time?

PAM FESSLER: No, actually, we're not seeing that yet. We still have a few more hours to go in a lot of places. It's still possible.

I think we might see -- there's been a little bit of court activity in Ohio. The Republicans have amended an earlier suit that they had that might affect the counting of provisional ballots in that state. And I think that's something that will come to play, if, in fact, the final tally there is close.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Pam Fessler of NPR, thanks very much.

PAM FESSLER: Thank you.