Voting chaos promises controversy to come
Voting across many American states was thrown into turmoil on Tuesday as electors found themselves confronted by makeshift polling booths, four-hour queues, malfunctioning machines and even the prospect of having to email their ballots.
Despite the millions of dollars spent on campaign rallies, television adverts and "robocalls", which deliver pre-recorded messages to voters, Americans found their political system beset by the kind of glitches more akin to a fledging democracy than a superpower.
It seems almost guaranteed that we're going to have a bunch of mini-2000-in-Floridas.
The problems were particularly acute in many of those areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy. In New Jersey, which suffered a direct hit from the "superstorm" just over a week ago, email and fax voting was introduced to allow thousands of displaced people and emergency workers to cast their ballots.
Confusion ... voters await instructions in a tent set up as a polling station in the Midland Beach neighbourhood of Staten Island. Photo: AFP
Voters complained that their emails were bouncing back. At one point, a county clerk started accepting applications to a personal email account.
Matt Blaze, a computer science professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has audited voting systems, said such email voting made security experts "recoil in horror".
"The email voting scheme has so many ways it can fail, or that doubt can be cast on the integrity of the results, that if a race somewhere in New Jersey is decided by email ballots, it seems almost guaranteed that we're going to have a bunch of mini-2000-in-Floridas all over the state," he added, in reference to the controversy that engulfed Florida following the 2000 presidential election, after the US Supreme Court ruled out a recount of contested votes.
Vote goes on ... a Rockaway resident and New York City firefighter, Terence O'Donnell, marks his ballot in a makeshift tent set up as a polling place in the storm-hit Rockaways. Photo: AFP
Penny Venetis, a law professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said computers trying to handle email votes were already buckling and it was "an understatement to describe the situation as chaotic".
At a makeshift polling station in Hoboken, New Jersey, which was hit by floods and where hundreds of thousands of people are still without power, voters queued up amid rotting rubbish and rubble.
Adora Agim, 38, a software engineer, and immigrant from Nigeria, said: "I have lived in a Third World country where your vote does not matter. It's nice to be somewhere where it matters."
Voters queue to vote in the Flatbush district of Brooklyn, New York. Voters in some areas had to wait four hours to cast their ballot. Photo: AP
Annette DeBona, 73, who voted in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, said: "I have been so anxious about being able to vote. It's such a relief to be able to do it."
Barbara Arnwine, the executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, described the experience in New Jersey as a "catastrophe".
There were further chaotic scenes in New York where about 60 polling stations were moved after Sandy.
Poll workers in Staten Island wielded torches in a tent which was unheated on one of the coldest days of the winter. Voting was delayed for half an hour while they struggled with generators.
The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, issued an executive order allowing people to vote at any polling place in the state by presenting an affidavit.
However, Daniela Reik, who was casting her ballot in Manhattan, said the system was "going to be a mess". "It's all paper ballots and the instructions are a page long," she said. "People then submit their ballot in a machine for scanning. One machine out of two was already broken and the guy ahead of me inserted an unfilled ballot."
At another Manhattan polling station, voting was delayed because ballot cards could not be found and scanners were not working.
Voting rights advocates said there had been persistent reports of fraudulent robocalls, and live calls, telling people in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida that they could cast ballots over the phone. Ms Arnwine said: "That is really dirty. It's a very sophisticated operation and it's very widespread, and it's very troubling to us."
In Miami, Florida, there were reports of people passing out in a four-hour queue outside a polling venue. Other long lines were reported in Virginia and Colorado.
In Richmond, Virginia, voters were turned away from a polling station early in the morning after a machine was wrongly loaded. Many commute to Washington DC so could not return to vote before the station closed at 7pm.
At other polling stations in Virginia, malfunctioning counting machines were reported, while 500 voting machines in 150 polling stations in Indianapolis were improperly programmed.
Some 700 absentee ballots in Broward County, Florida, were rejected because they were unsigned.
In Pennsylvania, a dispute erupted as 75 Republican election workers claimed they were prevented from entering voting sites in Philadelphia by Democrat rivals.
There were also concerns over the presence of thousands of Tea Party "election monitors" at polling stations across the country.