Tuesday could be a long day for election officials in states relying on electronic-voting machines to record votes in the U.S. presidential election, if early reports of malfunctions are any indication.
Problems with e-voting machines were reported early on election day in several U.S. states, including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, which are identified as battleground states where the outcome of the vote could tip the presidential race in favor of either Democratic Sen. Barack Obama or Republican Sen. John McCain.
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According to voter reports on the ground and from watchdog organizations, there were problems with getting e-voting machines up and running in these key states and others, and in some cases the machines would crash during the voting process and had to be rebooted.
Pennsylvania and Virginia were among states Verified Voting, an advocacy group focused on improving voting systems, and other watchdog organizations said they would keep a close eye on for voting problems. Neither state had early voting before Nov. 4, nor do they require paper-trail backups with the touchscreen electronic-voting machines in place at polls.
Critics of e-voting say that without a paper trail, there's no way to audit the results of a touchscreen machine, often called DREs, or direct recording electronic machines.
Some polling locations can give voters so-called "emergency" paper ballots, but this is not the case in all locations, said Pamela Smith, executive director of Verified Voting, in an interview early Tuesday. "There is no clear policy on emergency paper ballots, or on when to distribute them so voters can still vote," she said.
Moreover, if there is widespread failure with machines, locations with paper ballots are "concerned they'll run out," Smith said.
This, in fact, happened at one location in northern New Jersey Tuesday morning, where emergency paper ballots were gone by as early as 9:30 a.m. local time. Polling officials began making photocopies of paper ballots because people who came to vote were leaving the site, frustrated by the delay.
One poll worker at the site who asked not to be named said, "I don't have much faith in these machines," and voters interviewed on-site were concerned their votes would not be recorded properly because they were on paper.
William Grafton, an IT professional, left the line at a polling site in Maplewood, New Jersey, a town just outside of New York, because the e-voting machines were not working; he said he would return at lunch to try again.
Grafton said people in the area are "worried" their votes will not be counted because they would be on paper ballots and not on the e-voting machines.
Other voters said they preferred to use a paper ballot even if they voted via e-voting machine because they felt having a paper trail to record votes was more secure.