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Glitches Are Few in Orderly Voting

October 08, 2003|Sue Fox and Allison Hoffman | Times Staff Writers

Millions of Californians trooped to the polls Tuesday and cast their ballots in largely orderly fashion, sometimes encountering long lines and the occasional confused poll worker but mostly avoiding the potential pitfalls that had been well publicized for weeks.

The generally trouble-free balloting came as voter turnout hovered around the 60% mark, according to the secretary of state's office. That estimate, based on an informal survey of county elections officials, is significantly higher than last November's 51% turnout, but still less than the approximately 71% of voters who went to the polls in 2000 presidential election.

"We have more than 50 election observers and they're reporting to us the election is running smoothly," said spokesperson Terri Carbaugh. "There have been a few isolated incidents in a few counties and they were rapidly resolved."

Perhaps the most common complaint among voters was that their polling place had changed. While hardly unexpected -- election officials had urged people to check the poll addresses on their sample ballots -- the shifting locations still caught many voters off guard.

Ron Stones, a 42-year-old printer, had checked his sample ballot before he showed up to vote at an Eagle Rock elementary school. But he hadn't seen the latest mailer from the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder, a postcard informing him of a last-minute location change.

"I had no idea," Stones said, looking faintly surprised. But he seemed cheerful as a teacher's aide directed him to another school a few blocks away. "I understand that it's kind of a rushed thing," he said.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's office received calls from several elected officials, including Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and state Sen. Gil Cedillo, and union representatives in Los Angeles County who expressed concern that a large number of voters would be unable to cast ballots because of the confusion. Shelley said state investigators in Los Angeles looked into the matter but did not find evidence of serious voting problems.

Lines formed at some polling places, sometimes holding up voters for 45 minutes, but patience generally prevailed.

Some voters noticed troubling irregularities. Barbara Monderine, a 47-year-old restaurant owner, said she was waiting in line to vote in Glendale when a woman who had just left the polling place darted back in, saying that she had voted for a gubernatorial candidate but had forgotten to vote yes or no on the recall.

"They gave her a second ballot and said: 'Just vote on that one question.' I was like, Missy, you've got to be kidding me," Monderine said. "She gets a second vote? What is this, Florida?"

A problem surfaced in Solano County in the Bay Area, where election workers had inadvertently inserted a ballot page from the wrong booklet into roughly 25 voting machines, said Registrar Laura Winslow.

In those voting booths, one candidate's name appeared twice while one was missing. The names next to the punch holes were off by one notch, leading some voters to cast a ballot for an unintended candidate.

"The worst case scenario is that it affected 100 voters," Winslow said, noting that she caught the problem and replaced the machines in the morning.

At a hotel in Hollywood festooned with movie memorabilia, poll workers hastily covered up a framed photo of actor and candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger after a voter complained about its presence.

Interviews with election workers across the state suggest that voters cast an unusually high number of provisional ballots, used when a voter's registration is in question. In this election, Shelley bent the rules to allow people to cast provisional ballots at any polling place in their county.

That decision freed many voters from geographic constraints, but it could slow the vote count.

Provisional ballots, as well as last-minute absentee votes, require further verification before they can be tallied.

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