Electronic voting shapes up as election debacle

After warnings that electronic voting could cause trouble for U.S. voters, there are signs of another big problem at the polls.

After warnings that electronic voting could cause trouble in Tuesday's U.S. elections, there are signs of "what now appears to be a growing debacle," the CBC's Henry Champ reports from Washington.

By mid-afternoon, officials in at least three jurisdictions — Denver, Colo., Muncie, Ind., and Davidson County, Tenn. — were asking federal judges forextended voting hoursbecause, they said, voting machines in their areas have not functioned and they cannot handle the numbers of voters at the polls without more time.

Seventy-five precincts in Indiana — considered a bellwether state — failed to open on schedule because machines malfunctioned. In Cleveland, where there were problems with new machines in September's party primaries, things seemed no better.

"Again the same problem," Champ said. "Machines and machine supervisors unable to get the operations underway. Voters piling up in the doorways."

In a fragmented system of electoral administration, this year many states adopted computer-based systems such as touch-screen voting machines. Some machines, but not all, spit out paper records for subsequent auditing and/or receipts telling voters how their votes were recorded.

With about a third of voters facing new equipment, problems showed up in several states right out of the gate, the Associated Press reported.

Illinois officials were swamped with calls from voters complaining that poll workers did not know how to operate the equipment.

In Indiana's Delaware County, election agents said they would seek a court order in order to keep the polls open later, because they could not meet their deadlinesgiven the way machines were operating.

Florida officials, hoping to avoid a repeat of the vote-counting debacle of 2000, sent out extra voting machines, paper ballots and poll workers. In the Jacksonville suburb of Orange Park, voters were issued paper ballots after a machine broke.

Paper beats machines: governor

In Maryland, voters received blunt advice from Republican Gov.Bob Ehrlich.Paper is more dependable, thegovernor said,andvoters have a right to a paper ballot ifthey have any concern about the machines or technology.

Canada's centralizedfederal election machinery is the envy of U.S. voter-rights advocates, said Jonah Goldman, director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections, a Washington-based lobby group.

"Having a uniform process would dramatically decrease the types of problems that we're seeing today," he told CBC News.

American voting procedures can vary from county to county, Goldman said. "We've got over 4,000 election jurisdictions in this country that a lot of the time are administering elections in their own special way."

Voter smashes machine

Meanwhile, a would-be voter was arrested in Allentown, Pa., where election workers said he smashed an electronic voting machine with a paperweight.

Authorities didn't know what caused the outburst.

"He came in here very peaceably and showed his ID, then he got on the machine and just snapped," volunteer Gladys Pezoldt told The Morning Call of Allentown.

The machine's screen was damaged, and it was not immediately clear if votes recorded on it could be retrieved. Police said the man faced charges of felony criminal mischief and tampering with voting machines.

With files from the Associated Press