WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Fears of a chaotic election day in
Palm Beach County, fueled by reports of thousands of missing
absentee ballots and long lines at sites designated for early
voting, were calmed yesterday by a largely unproblematic
election.

As television broadcasters struggled to avoid being the first to
call Florida for President Bush, vote returns pointed more and more
convincingly to a Bush win in Florida. Kerry took Palm Beach
County, however, with more than 60 percent of the popular vote.

With turnout projected to be higher than usual and most voters
not used to the county’s new electronic voting machines, many
analysts predicted widespread problems on election day. But with a
few minor exceptions, voting in West Palm Beach and throughout
Florida went far more smoothly than expected, most observers
said.

“My own view is that it’s going to be like Y2K:
Everyone thought terrible things were going to happen, and it was a
smooth transition,” Stan West, a retired vice president of
the New York Stock Exchange, predicted yesterday morning.

Palm Beach County was the site of the 2000 election’s
butterfly-ballot controversy, in which a confusing ballot led many
Democratic voters to mistakenly select Reform Party candidate Pat
Buchanan.

Many of the reported problems in yesterday’s election
involved tricks played on registered voters before election day.
Theresa LePore, supervisor of elections for Palm Beach County, said
yesterday her office received reports of “bogus telephone
calls” instructing some voters to use the wrong polling place
or wrongly informing them that they were not registered to
vote.

But at the polls themselves, voting went largely without
incident. Visits to several sites in Palm Beach County yesterday
revealed few problems.

Although the county experienced long lines for early voting held
in the few days before the election — forcing some voters to
wait up to four hours — poll workers and voters said lines
were unexpectedly short on election day. The long lines during
early voting were blamed on a lack of polling sites: Just eight
were assigned during early voting, compared to 692 on election
day.

At one polling place in West Palm Beach, Democratic volunteers
who were supervising the election said the only problem at their
site all day was eventually righted. Victoria Hutto, a medical
student who came to vote as polls opened, was forced to cast a
provisional ballot because she had duplicate registrations on file.
But poll workers were unable to reach LePore’s office to get
permission to open the provisional ballots box, and Hutto was
turned away.

After coming back to the polling site twice and receiving
several calls from the Democratic volunteers, Hutto was finally
allowed to use a provisional ballot later in the
afternoon.“I’m so happy, because I didn’t think I
was going to be able to vote,” Hutto said.

Democratic volunteers at the Chamber of Commerce polling site in
downtown West Palm Beach said they saw no problems throughout the
day. Volunteers and poll workers at other polling places in West
Palm Beach and Lake Worth reported similar results.

Touch-screen electronic voting machines, a major source of worry
owing to reports that they are error-prone and subject to
tampering, received mostly positive reviews. All voters interviewed
said they found the machines easy to use, and many said they were
better than the butterfly ballot.

Touch-screen machines have multiplied in Florida since the state
eliminated its punch-card ballots. Palm Beach County was among the
areas in Florida with irregularities caused by punch-card problems
in 2000.

The machines exhibited some technical problems, but none of the
major crashes that some had predicted. Nine machines in a Boynton
Beach polling place were reportedly not plugged in properly and
lost battery power as a result. Officials said no votes were
lost.

Carol Ann Loehndorf, chair of the Palm Beach County Democratic
Party, said some voters reported that their machines displayed
votes for Bush after they had attempted to vote for Kerry.

But LePore dismissed that claim, saying the machines display a
preview screen before the voter submits his or her vote. Voters who
make mistakes, she said, can easily fix them before finalizing
their votes.

Despite the lack of major voting problems, some residents of
Palm Beach County remained pessimistic about the state’s
chances of selecting a winner without incident. Rob Rush, a police
captain who was collecting absentee ballots near the county
supervisor of elections office, said he expected recounts similar
to those in 2000.

“I’ll make a prediction: They’ll call it at
the inauguration,” Rush said.

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