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Voting Problems: "Much Ado About Nothing"

CBS News Investigative Unit wrote this story for

Registration problems, voting machine malfunctions and long lines hindered balloting in some polling locations in five key states as a record 100 million voters cast their ballots yesterday. But the feared voting problem meltdown that John McCain said threatened "to destroy the fabric of democracy," and Barack Obama believed may be used "as an excuse for the kind of voter suppression strategies… seen in the past" -- never really materialized. Despite yesterday's early morning hysteria from voting rights groups about conditions on the ground in Virginia and Pennsylvania, Obama's huge margin of victory, coupled with a much more efficiently run election, kept problems sporadic and inconsequential. Overall, the election went smoothly, with small brush fires here and there.

With a highly-mobilized election monitoring network -- represented by more than 100 civil rights groups bird-dogging the process nationwide -- many of the early morning problems quickly dissipated. Even with nearly 50,000 calls to its national hotline, the Election Protection Coalition, conceded late yesterday that the bulk of these problems involved confusion over polling locations, registration anomalies and long lines. Machine malfunctions, which occurred predominately in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey and Florida, posed more of a problem for untrained poll workers than for actual voters.

In Minnesota, where early reports of voter fraud, police intimidation and lines around the blocks surfaced yesterday, it soon became clear they were more fiction than fact, with Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie confirming that his office "received no reports whatsoever of fraudulent voting occurring." Even in what was expected to be the hotly contested state of Colorado, concerns about the misuse of provisional ballots, showcased in PSA's by the Brennan Center for Justice just days before the election, didn't pan out.

From our investigative team in the field, here's how it actually played out in some crucial battleground states:

In Virginia, thousands of complaints about an over-taxed taxed voting system - characterized by long lines and broken machines -- raised red flags as the battleground state was targeted as a problem. Election officials took swift action to reallocate voting resources to alleviate any bottlenecks so by the time the morning rush was gone, precincts in Richmond and Hampton Roads visited by CBS News, turned up nothing more than idle machines, brief lines and happy, determined voters. By midday the glitches were resolved and Virginians delivered a big win to Obama, the first Democrat to win in the state since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Virginia Election Board officials attributed the early mess to the fact that voters descended in droves on the polls before dawn.

In Florida, a state that was under the microscope eight years ago, watchdog groups were sending out constant media alerts claiming there were "long lines" and "massive" machine malfunctions. But from the ground, the view was much different. A CBS News crew visited about a dozen key polling locations in three southeast counties on Tuesday. The conclusion, lines were short… in stark contrast to wait times of as much as 7 hours at some of the same polling locations days earlier. In fact, one of our own CBS News producers waited 4.5 hours in Miami-Dade County to vote just two days ago. We were also on hand, when the polls closed, to witness the "mass rush" predicted by certain watchdog groups… another concern that didn't materialize. As for the machine breakdowns "all over the state," CBS News found the problems were quickly resolved.

In Ohio, the headline was "no lines." Voters went to the polls expecting long waits and headaches, but both concerns were unfounded. An hour before the polls closed in Cuyohoga County, the scene of major machine malfunctions and long lines in 2006, only two of the nearly 1,500 precincts were reporting problems. Statewide, perhaps the biggest problem was voter identification, with some poll workers in various locations providing provisional ballots if the address on their ID card did not match the state voter roll - something NOT required under Ohio state law. Confined to certain precincts, however, it neither disenfranchised voters nor affected the results, according to state officials.
By CBS News Investigative Unit

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