Early birds get to vote after long wait in line
Problems with machines left some of the record numbers uneasy.

The Times-Union | October 20, 2008
By Shakaya Andres

Malfunctions left some voters wondering Monday if their vote would count, while election officials throughout Northeast Florida were slammed with record early voting turnouts.

Early voting started Monday and continues through the weekend before Election Day at select locations.

Jerry Holland, Duval County supervisor of elections, said seven out of 15 optical scan machines were replaced on Monday as a result of problems with the machines rejecting ballots.

"We're looking at everything," said Holland, who said the humidity, the paper or the machine may have been factors.

Problems with the machines occurred throughout Duval County, including Gateway mall, Webb Wesconnett, Mandarin, Highlands, Regency Square and Bradham-Brooks Northwest libraries, according to officials.

Tia Sewell-Crumpler, who voted at one of the problematic sites - Highlands library - felt uncomfortable her ballot wasn't scanned.

"I wanted to see it go into the machine," Sewell-Crumpler said, to get counted.

Officials said voters can feel confident their ballots are being handled carefully and tactfully. Procedures have been put into place to make sure all registered voters who go out to vote have their say in the election.

"We're going to make sure every vote counts," Holland added.

Broward County to the south also reported problems with equipment, according to The Associated Press, which said some voters in other parts of the state waited for hours as crowds swarmed election offices.

In Duval County, 10 more machines were ordered from the manufacturer Primer, an Ohio company, and are expected to be on hand in the event of other unforeseen problems, officials said.

Meanwhile, lines were steady all day long at all the early voting sites. The wait time at the main office was at least one hour in the morning until around 1 p.m., dropping down to 45 minutes in the afternoon.

Michelle Sutherland, South Mandarin library poll supervisor, said people were lined up outside before the doors opened at 10 a.m. Monday.

"We've been really busy," she said. "There have been 40-50 people in line consistently."

Duval County election officials estimated at least 6,000 turned out on the first day of early voting, but the exact number was uncertain. Holland said an exact count would be available today.

"This [election year] is going to break any kind of record," said Holland.

Not all the problems in Duval County were equipment-related. One man was arrested at the Supervisor of Elections main office for fighting, but not before he cast his vote. Officials said they didn't think it was campaign-related and didn't have any other information about the incident.

Election workers in Clay and St. Johns counties reported no problems with the first day of early voting.

Almost 4,000 people voted Monday in St. Johns County, and 1,700 in Clay County. Nassau County estimated 1,400 people voted, and in Baker County about 400 turned out.

St. Johns Supervisor of Elections Penny Hallyburton said all six early voting locations ran smoothly. The larger number of voters led to some lines, but the wait was still only taking 5-10 minutes before voters got into a polling place.

Both Vicki Cannon, elections supervisor in Nassau County, and Baker County supervisor Nita Crawford said the first day went smoothly with no equipment malfunctions.

"It has been real steady, and the line has moved swiftly. I encourage early voting," Crawford said.

Cannon said that not only has the turnout for early voting been good, but voters have been calling her office with requests for ballots to vote by mail.

"It is exciting to see our citizens so engaged," Cannon said. "They are really interested in this election and it makes it all worthwhile because so much effort goes into preparing for the election."