Update: E-voting problems reported early in battleground states

Issues arose in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia

Today could be a long day for election officials in states relying on electronic-voting machines to record votes in the U.S. presidential election, if early reports of malfunctions are any indication.

Problems with e-voting machines were reported early on Election Day in several states, including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia, which are identified as battleground states where the outcome of the vote could tip the presidential race in favor of either Democratic Sen. Barack Obama or Republican Sen. John McCain.

According to reports from voters on the ground and from watchdog organizations, there were problems with getting e-voting machines up and running in these key states and others, and in some cases the machines would crash during the voting process and had to be rebooted.

Pennsylvania and Virginia were among states that Verified Voting, an advocacy group focused on improving voting systems, and other watchdog organizations said they would monitor closely for problems. Neither state had early voting before Nov. 4, nor do they require paper-trail backups with the touch-screen e-voting machines in place at polls.

Critics of e-voting said that without a paper trail, there's no way to audit the results of a touch-screen machine, often called DREs, or direct recording electronic machines.

Some polling locations can give voters so-called emergency paper ballots, but this is not the case in all locations, said Pamela Smith, executive director of Verified Voting, in an interview early today. "There is no clear policy on emergency paper ballots, or on when to distribute them so voters can still vote," she said.

Moreover, if there is widespread failure with machines, locations with paper ballots are "concerned that they'll run out," Smith said.

This, in fact, happened at one location in northern New Jersey this morning, where emergency paper ballots were gone by as early as 9:30 a.m. Eastern time. Polling officials began making photocopies of paper ballots because people who came to vote were leaving the site, frustrated by the delay.

William Grafton, an IT professional, left the line at a polling site in Maplewood, N.J., a town just outside of New York, because an e-voting machine was not working; he said he would return at lunch to try again.

Grafton said people in the area are "worried" that their votes will not be counted because they would be on paper ballots and not on the e-voting machines. Other voters said they preferred to use a paper ballot -- even if they voted via e-voting machine -- because they felt having a paper trail to record votes was more secure.

"It's two minutes to do the electronic, so if you have to do the paper I would do it too, to make sure the vote counts." said Sylvia Green, a certified nurse's aid who waited two hours to vote at a polling site in Irvington, N.J., about six miles from New York.

E-voting troubles

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