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In Ohio, Voting Problems And High Turnout

Voting problems Tuesday in Ohio - including confusion over detachable tags on newly required paper ballots and a bogus bomb threat that halted voting - were minor compared with the long lines and poll worker confusion that plagued parts of the state in the past.

In trouble-prone Cuyahoga County, some people who voted in the primary that could put John McCain over the top and settle a fierce Democratic presidential nomination said they liked the switch to old-fashioned paper ballots because they were easier to fill out.

One glitch emerged in Cleveland, where Ohio's most populous county had just over two months to switch from a touch-screen electronic voting system with security issues to the printed ballots: some voters removed stubs that were meant for poll-worker handling.

The ballots were still valid, and it seemed doubtful stubs would enter the election lore alongside the notorious chads which held up vote-counting in Florida's disputed 2000 presidential election.

The Cuyahoga County elections board, working to improve an image tarnished by a recent history of lost ballots, absent or poorly trained poll workers and vote counts lasting through the week, sent out a notice that the stubs should be removed only by election workers.

In suburban Parma Heights, some midmorning voters said they had been instructed by poll workers to remove the stubs.

With 250,000 registered Democrats, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County could be critical to the Democratic primary campaigns of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

The paper ballots promised simplicity but could mean slower counting.

Ohio's top elections official, Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat elected in 2006 with a promise to reform the system, wants 53 other Ohio counties that use electronic voting machines to switch to paper. For the primary she only required them to make paper ballots available to voters who ask for them.

Despite problems, Ohio voters ignored rain, hail and sleet in large enough numbers Tuesday that officials expected record turnout for a primary.

Brunner predicted as many as 4 million voters, 52 percent of Ohio's registered voters, would cast ballots. Many got a head start before Tuesday by using absentee ballots. This was the first presidential primary in Ohio that didn't require voters to give a reason for using absentee ballots.

Turnout was steady around the state, but not so heavy that long lines were a problem, said Brunner spokesman Patrick Gallaway.

Rain was a bigger issue. A least 10 counties with flooding problems - Jefferson, Adams, Harrison, Hocking, Perry, Pike, Athens, Vinton, Guernsey and Ross - asked the state for permission to move voting sites located near water-covered roads, Gallaway said.

Ice caused power outages at a few polling locations in Knox County, but backup generators were keeping voting machines up and running, said Elections Clerk Kim Horn.

A retired Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Victor Cimperman, 90, who lives next to St. Vitus Church where he voted in Cleveland, said he had no problems with the paper ballots. "To me, it doesn't make any difference as long as you follow instructions," he said.

Acy Streeter, 51, who also voted in Cleveland, said the fill-the-oval ballots were simple. "All you have to do is blacken the oval under the candidate," she said.

Election officials around the state said voting was generally smooth and polling sites were busy despite heavy rain, sleet and hail. There were isolated instances of temporary delays getting polling sites running, but lines of voters mostly moved quickly.

In Cuyahoga County, voters used their third voting system in recent years: punch-cards abandoned in 2005; then a touch-screen system that highlighted poll-worker training issues; and an old-fashioned fill-in-the-oval paper-ballot system debuting Tuesday.

Jane Platten, Cuyahoga County elections director, reported one early problem: a polling place in suburban Richmond Heights that opened late.

In Madison in Lake County, located northeast of Cleveland, a bomb threat halted voting at a school for about 1½ hours. Voters were cleared out, and the school was placed under lockdown while authorities searched with a bomb-sniffing dog but found nothing.

While the polling location was shut down, election officials kept a list of people who showed up hoping to vote. All 14 agreed to return later.

Karla Herron, board of elections director in Union County northwest of Columbus, said there had been strong turnout but only about 1 percent of voters requested paper ballots. The county lost a lawsuit seeking to block the paper ballot requirement.

Virginia Price, director of the Putnam County elections board in northwest Ohio, said only a handful of voters had asked for a paper ballot alternative. "It's not a big deal," she said.

That also was the case in Dayton, said Stephen Harsman, director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections. "We've been tracking that all day, and people really aren't choosing paper ballots. I think either they don't know about it or they just have confidence in the touch screens," he said.

In Franklin County, all polling places opened on time, including one in Columbus at the Ohio State School for the Blind, where the electricity was out and voting machines operated on backup power, county elections board spokesman Ben Piscitelli said.

In Toledo, Lucas County elections board director Jill Kelly said two polling-place presiding judges failed to show up on time with election supplies.

"If you don't have that, you can't start the party," Kelly said.

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