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Record number of voters expected to deluge polls

Voting problems surfaced in several areas early Tuesday as people turned out in droves as balloting commenced along the Eastern Seaboard and in mid-Atlantic states.

Voters needed to use paper ballots because of problems with electronic voting machines in some New Jersey precincts. And in New York, Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez-Rivera said many people began lining up as early as 4 a.m. at some polling places to avoid long lines, leading to erroneous reports that some sites were not opening on time.

Poll worker John Ritch in Chappaqua, N.Y., said: "By 7:30 this morning, we had as many as we had at noon in 2004."

Gov. Ed Rendell urged voters in Pennsylvania to "hang in there" as state and country officials braced for a huge turnout. More than 160 people were lined up to vote by the time polls opened at First Presbyterian Church in Allentown. "I could stay an hour and a half at the front end or three hours at the back end," joked Ronald Marshall, a black Democrat.

In several counties surrounding Virginia's capital city of Richmond, voters and elections officials reported paper jams on some machines and balky touch-screen machines in some localities had local registrars considering paper ballots.

At one precinct in Richmond, hundreds of people encircled a branch library by 6 a.m., the scheduled opening of the polls. But the line grew for another 25 minutes before the poll workers opened the doors. They said the librarian who had a key to the polling place had overslept. Despite the delay under a steady drizzle, voters cheered as the doors opened at 6:25 a.m.

In Chesapeake, approximately 1,000 voters stood in line to vote, and some people reported malfunctioning machines.

Independent election monitors reported problems at two dozen polling places throughout the state. The State Board of Elections scheduled a briefing for midmorning.

In Ohio, a state which has had voting problems in the past, Franklin County Board of Elections spokesman Ben Piscitelli said officials again were dealing with typical glitches, like jammed backup paper tapes on voting machines.

"We're taking care of things like that," Piscitelli said. "But there's nothing major or systemic."

Lawsuits alleging voter suppression already had surfaced in Virginia, a hotly contested state. A judge refused late Monday to extend poll hours or add voting machines to black precincts in some areas. The NAACP, in a federal lawsuit, demanded those changes, saying minority neighborhoods would experience overwhelming turnout and there weren't enough electronic machines.

U.S. District Judge Richard Williams denied the motion for a preliminary injunction, but ordered election officials to publicize that people in line by 7 p.m., the polls' closing time, would be allowed to cast ballots.

Republican John McCain's campaign sued the Virginia electoral board hours before polls opened, trying to force the state to count late-arriving military ballots from overseas.

McCain, a former POW from the Vietnam War, asked a federal judge to order state election officials to count absentee ballots mailed from abroad that arrive as late as Nov. 14.

Lawsuits have become common fodder in election battles. The 2000 recount meltdown in Florida was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

What is uncommon about Tuesday's contest is the sheer number of voters expected to descend on more than 7,000 election jurisdictions across the country. Voter registration numbers are up 7.3 percent from the last presidential election.

"We have a system that is traditionally set up for low turnout," said Tova Wang of the government watchdog group Common Cause. "We're going to have all these new voters, but not a lot of new resources. The election directors just have very little to work with."

Deborah Hastings, AP National Writer © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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