A likely record voter turnout on Election Day has polling officials across the country braced for problems, and some difficulties surfaced early Tuesday as people turned out in droves even before balloting began in Eastern Seaboard states.
Voters needed to use paper ballots because of problems with electronic voting machines in some New Jersey precincts, and in Virginia, long lines of voters waited longer than necessary in one instance because, poll workers said, the head of a branch library had overslept.
If New York sets a pattern, voting turnout definitely will be higher than ever. Valerie Vazquez-Rivera, a spokeswoman for the city's Board of Elections, said many people began lining up as early as 4 a.m. at some polling places to avoid long lines, leading to erroneous reports that some sites were not opening on time.
Poll worker John Ritch in Chappaqua, N.Y., said: "By 7:30 this morning, we had as many as we had at noon in 2004."
Gov. Ed Rendell urged voters in Pennsylvania to "hang in there" as state and country officials braced for a huge turnout. More than 160 people were lined up to vote by the time polls opened at First Presbyterian Church in Allentown. "I could stay an hour and a half at the front end or three hours at the back end," joked Ronald Marshall, a black Democrat.
In Ohio, a state which has had voting problems in the past, Franklin County Board of Elections spokesman Ben Piscitelli said officials again were dealing with typical glitches, like jammed backup paper tapes on voting machines.
"We're taking care of things like that," Piscitelli said. "But there's nothing major or systemic."
Lawsuits alleging voter suppression already had surfaced in Virginia, a hotly contested state. A judge refused late Monday to extend poll hours or add voting machines to black precincts in some areas. The NAACP, in a federal lawsuit, demanded those changes, saying minority neighborhoods would experience overwhelming turnout and there weren't enough electronic machines.
U.S. District Judge Richard Williams denied the motion for a preliminary injunction, but ordered election officials to publicize that people in line by 7 p.m., the polls' closing time, would be allowed to cast ballots.
Republican John McCain's campaign sued the Virginia electoral board hours before polls opened, trying to force the state to count late-arriving military ballots from overseas.
McCain, a former POW from the Vietnam War, asked a federal judge to order state election officials to count absentee ballots mailed from abroad that arrive as late as Nov. 14.
Lawsuits have become common fodder in election battles. The 2000 recount meltdown in Florida was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Ohio, there was the turmoil in 2004 over malfunctioning machines and long lines was beset by litigation.
What is uncommon about Tuesday's contest is the sheer number of voters expected to descend on more than 7,000 election jurisdictions across the country.
Lines stretching around buildings and lasting for hours have already plagued many states with early voting, including Florida, Georgia and Colorado. Voter registration numbers are up 7.3 percent from the last presidential election. Democrats saw their registration numbers increase by 12.2 percent, while Republicans saw their ranks grow by only 1.7 percent, according to a recent analysis by The Associated Press.
About 50 percent of those going to the polls Tuesday will vote on a new system — something voting advocates fear may confuse folks. Armies of lawyers dispatched by political parties and candidates McCain and Democrat Barack Obama will monitor polling places looking for signs of vote tampering and voter intimidation.
Challenging people at the polls over their right to vote prompted some election officials to strengthen regulations on such challenges. In Ohio, for example, the secretary of state sent notices to local election jurisdictions stating that only poll workers can approach voters about ballot problems.
Extra ballots and additional touch-screen machines have been dispatched by voting officials across the country. Still, voting advocates worry that those efforts aren't enough.
"We have a system that is traditionally set up for low turnout," said Tova Wang of the government watchdog group Common Cause. "We're going to have all these new voters, but not a lot of new resources. The election directors just have very little to work with."