Early voting eases Election Day jam

November 4, 2008 7:14:12 PM PST
Record early voter turnout helped lead to shorter lines on Election Day in many of the largest counties across Texas, officials said Tuesday. Race results: Key Races | State Representatives | State Senate | Harris County | Ft. Bend County | Galveston County | Montgomery County | Brazoria County | All Races

There were reports of minor problems in a few counties, but overall voting appeared to run smoothly with most voters not waiting long to cast their votes.

"It's amazing," said Jacque Callanen, elections administrator for Bexar County, home to San Antonio. "There's happy people out there."

Reports of voting problems throughout the state were few. The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund called Bexar County after receiving reports that an election judge told two voters they would have to wait 90 minutes to get provisional ballots and that they should just vote in the next election.

Luis Figueroa, the advocacy group's legislative staff attorney, said the situation was worked out with officials, who called it a miscommunication. Callanen was unaware of the problem but said anyone who suggested waiting until the next election was "just being facetious, I think."

In San Patricio County near Corpus Christi, there was a dustup over election signs posted overnight at more than 15 polling places. The signs said "Vote Republican Here" in Spanish on one side and English on the other.

Democrats complained that the signs were misleading and made people think only Republicans were allowed to vote at the site. The Secretary of State ruled that the signs must come down and the sheriff helped enforce it, a county official and a Democratic Party official said.

"The idea was basically to trick people that only Republicans vote at this location, not Democrats," said Christian Archer, who is running the re-election campaign for state Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi. "We had people calling our headquarters saying: 'I went but that was where Republicans vote. Where do I vote?"'

San Patricio Republican County Party Chairman Bob MacDonald said the signs were an attempt to encourage everyone to vote. He said a list of precinct numbers were attached to each sign.

In retrospect, MacDonald said, they should have left off the word "Republican."

"I just want it to be fair," MacDonald said. "I want everybody to vote, whether Republican or Democrat..."

In Williamson County, there were some problems with the electronic software pulling up the wrong ballots between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. at 13 voting locations. The software pulled up ballots that didn't include local bond elections or propositions, said Williamson County spokeswoman Connie Watson.

At most, 590 people were affected, but the number is likely less than that because many times the voter or election worker caught the mistake, Watson said. Anyone who thought they got an incorrect ballot could go back before polls closed to vote on the bond or proposition left off using a provisional ballot.

Watson said the problem did not occur in early voting. After the mistakes were discovered Tuesday morning, election workers no longer used the electronic equipment to find the ballots.

Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade projected 68 percent turnout among the 13.5 million registered voters in Texas. Andrade's prediction is 12 percentage points higher than 2004 and follows heavy early voting turnout across the state.

In Dallas County, where 477,455 of nearly 1.3 registered voters cast early ballots, there were few reports of long lines.

Ken Elliott, a 39-year-old pilot in Dallas, said he was "pleasantly surprised" that he didn't have to wait to vote.

"It went very fast," he said.

Hector de Leon, a spokesman for the Harris County clerk's office, said there were few long lines in the Houston area, which has about 1.9 million registered voters.

Amy Hellman, 54, an educator who runs a home-based business, dashed in and out of a polling place at Sugar Creek Country Club in Sugar Land, a suburb south of Houston, where there were no lines on Tuesday morning. It took less than 15 minutes for most people to vote.

El Paso County, where about 29 percent of their 387,167 registered voters voted early, saw waits of up to 45 minutes early in the day.

Ann Canales, a 47-year-old single mother, emerged from her polling place with a wide grin, accompanied by her 16-year-old son.

"I've just been waiting for this day," said Canales, who voted for Barack Obama.

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