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Biggest voting gripe: long lines

Other than that, the election went fairly smoothly, officials say, with just a few glitches here and there.

Published November 3, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - At her polling site at the Coliseum, Carole Krayer pressed the circle over and over again for President Bush.

Each time, her vote popped up for John Kerry.

A poll worker suggested that Krayer had made a mistake. Sometimes women with long fingernails will hit the wrong candidate, the poll worker said.

"So I used my knuckle," she said.

Again, her vote appeared for Kerry.

Krayer finally voted for Bush on a different machine, but her experience illustrated the types of voting glitches that crept up during Tuesday's election.

Overall, elections officials said the day went smoothly, even as voter turnout ran well above that for the 2000 election. Thousands of voters stood in lines for hours from Inverness to St. Petersburg to cast ballots.

Concerns that Republican poll watchers could challenge the qualifications of so many voters that it would cause gridlock proved unfounded. There were no reported challenges of voters in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. Republican lawyers said they challenged only a few voters in Hillsborough and Pinellas.

The biggest complaint?

Long lines and not nearly enough machines.

In Tampa, the canvassing board threw out 709 absentee ballots, mostly because of discrepancies with voters' signatures. An absentee ballot cast by Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd's daughter, who is a Navy pilot, was tossed.

"I guess it's okay for her to go in harm's way but not be able to vote," Byrd said.

At a precinct near the University of Tampa, students who had registered but weren't on the rolls had to wait hours for provisional ballots. The precinct ran out of provisional ballots about 3 p.m.

"I'm just stunned that we would have to wait this long for students to exercise their right to vote," said Scott Paine, a professor who waited with the students.

In Hernando, elections workers used an adding machine to count thousands of votes when discs that held votes could not be read.

Voters across the area reported that touch screen machines changed their votes, right before their eyes.

Elections workers blamed voters for touching the wrong names on the screens. Computer scientists said the error happens when machines aren't calibrated correctly. That means the button for selecting a candidate wasn't lined up properly with the candidate's name on the computer screen.

Bush lawyers also accused Democratic activists of improperly helping scores of voters cast a ballot. Voters signed forms asking for assistance, even though they did not appear to need it.

"It sounds like someone looking for something to complain about," replied St. Petersburg lawyer Peter Wallace, who represented the Kerry campaign in Pinellas.

In the Woodlawn area of St. Petersburg, dozens of police officers chasing a suspect set up roadblocks - in front of a polling site. Police routed voters to the building's back entrance and reopened the street after 30 minutes.

In Clearwater, poll workers at Heritage United Methodist Church found a small bag of cocaine on the table where voters check in. Workers think the cocaine fell out of a voter's wallet, said sheriff's spokesman Mac McMullen.

Although some precincts had no lines, at others, people waited hours to cast a ballot.

"It's worth the two hours," said Geraldine Kidd, who waited that long to cast her ballot in St. Petersburg. In Madeira Beach, Barbara Battle kept an eye on her polling place at City Hall using binoculars. Just before 7 p.m. she saw an opening, raced in and voted in moments.

At 10:13 p.m., Brooke Taylor walked out of the Asian Family and Community Empowerment Center in St. Petersburg. She was one of the last to vote in Pinellas.

A reading teacher, Taylor had raced from class to become the last person in a line. The precinct, which has 1,365 voters, had only four working machines.

A Republican poll watcher said Taylor got into line too late. Immediately, several Democratic poll monitors swarmed to her defense.

"I'm not going to leave," Taylor said.

When she finally got inside the building, officials let her cast a regular ballot. She had waited three hours.

"Right now, I just want to go home," she said.

Times staff writers Jamie Thompson, Marcus Franklin, Jean Heller, Matthew Waite, Lauren Bayne Anderson, Catherine E. Shoichet, Megan Scott, Catherine Shoichet, Christopher Tisch, Jeff Testerman, Christopher Goffard, Bill Varian, Steve Hegarty, Jennifer Liberto, Amy Wimmer Schwarb and Monique Fields contributed to this report.

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