Long lines, machine snags - but no major US voting problems

2016-11-09 05:32
Seven voters choose their candidate at midnight in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. (Alice Chiche, AFP)

Seven voters choose their candidate at midnight in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. (Alice Chiche, AFP)

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Washington - Voters around the US faced long lines, occasional broken machines and some hot tempers on Tuesday, but as the polls began closing from east to west, there were no signs of the large-scale fraud, intimidation or hacking some had feared in the run-up to the presidential election.

The scattered problems mostly involved the sort of glitches that arise in every election, including discrepancies in the voter rolls, with no immediate indication of a snag big enough to meaningfully alter the overall vote count.

"The biggest surprise is how uneventful things have been with this large a turnout," said Illinois State Board of Elections spokesperson Jim Tenuto. "Everyone was expecting more problems than this — and nothing."

In Texas, a computer malfunctioned at a polling place in suburban Houston, and voters were briefly sent to another site more than two miles away. In key battleground North Carolina, a computer problem in the Democratic stronghold of Durham County triggered long lines when election officials had to rely on a paper check-in process. Several precincts there extended their closing times up to an hour.

A computer glitch in Colorado forced in-person voters to cast provisional ballots, though there was no evidence the network was hit by hackers. Some people in North Carolina and Virginia complained they were not on the rolls despite registering through the motor vehicle departments.

And in Dover, New Hampshire, polls were staying open for an extra hour because the city mistakenly sent an email to voters with the wrong closing time.

Outside a Florida polling place, a woman campaigning for Donald Trump pepper-sprayed a Hillary Clinton voter.

There were reports of voters waiting for hours to cast their ballots in such states as Missouri and Utah. Some polling places in the Phoenix metropolitan area had more than 100 voters lined up at 06:00.

No mass voter intimidation

The voting unfolded amid repeated but unsubstantiated claims from Trump that the election would somehow be rigged. His exhortations to followers to watch for fraud at the polls gave rise to fears of vigilantism and harassment. There was also anxiety that hackers might attack voting systems.

"Overall, the story that everyone was expecting — mass reports of voter intimidation — hasn't happened," said Wendy Weiser, head of the democracy programme at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU's Law School. "I've definitely seen an uptick in it ... but it's not the overriding story of the election, which certainly ought to be a relief to many."

Trump again suggested the election might not be on the up-and-up. His campaign said it was seeking an investigation in the battleground state of Nevada over reports that some voters were allowed to get in line after poll closing times.

In an interview on Fox News, Trump would not say whether he would accept the outcome.

"We're going to see how things play out today and hopefully they will play out well and hopefully we won't have to worry about it," he said. Later in the interview, he said, "It's largely a rigged system."

Fears of voter intimidation and fraud led to a flurry of lawsuits in the run-up to Election Day, and new voter regulations in more than a dozen states also held the potential to sow confusion at polling places.

In Philadelphia, one of the places Trump had suggested were ripe for fraud, District Attorney Seth Williams said that as of the afternoon, there were no substantiated reports of voter fraud or intimidation, and "no walking apocalypse of zombies voting around town".

Meanwhile, state election officials were guarding against any attempt to breach their computer systems.

Forty-eight states accepted "cyber hygiene" help from the Homeland Security Department to patch their networks and root out problems that could allow hackers in, and the remaining two states hired contractors to do the same, officials said.

With voters casting ballots in 9 000 jurisdictions and more than 185 000 precincts, the decentralised nature of the US voting system was seen as a major protector against a hacker having any sizeable effect on the vote.

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