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Voters Fight Long Lines in California

October 7, 2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Voters contended with long lines and parking problems in California’s recall election Tuesday, with poll workers reporting unusually high turnout.

For the most part, though, the voting appeared to be going smoothly in many places around the state as of midday.

``I’ve never been so busy, ever,″ said Patti Negri, a voting supervisor for 12 years who was stationed at a polling place in a Hollywood Hills hotel.

People were waiting when the doors opened at 7 a.m., and streamed in steadily during the first hours of voting. There was a 15- to 20-minute wait to cast ballots _ in part because an adjacent polling place did not open as planned and voters had to be diverted there.

Many voters came clutching voter pamphlets to guide them through the 135 names on the ballot. Some complained about the outmoded punch-card systems still in use in some precincts.

``If I were 80 years old and couldn’t see well, I don’t know how I would do this. It’s a Neanderthal system,″ said Daphne Calfon.

A Field Poll released Tuesday morning predicted that 65 percent of registered voters, about 10 million Californians, would vote in the recall election. That would be a 30 percent increase over the 7.7 million who voted last November, and the most ever in a California gubernatorial election.

``This was probably one of the most trying days for us, but we got through it,″ said Alena Gardner, a coordinator at a Sunset Boulevard precinct on the West Hollywood-Los Angeles line. ``It’s been a steady flow of voters here, probably three times what we’re normally used to.″

Record numbers of people voted by absentee ballot.

California’s 58 county elections departments on Tuesday were processing the 2.1 million absentee ballots that have poured in for weeks. Statewide, voters requested 3.2 million absentee ballots.

The election was nearly stopped over the use of outmoded punch-card ballots, similar to those at the center of the ``hanging chads″ battle in the 2000 presidential election in Florida.

Last month, a three-judge federal appeals court panel blocked the recall election after civil rights lawyers argued that thousands of minority voters’ ballots could go uncounted. A larger panel of 11 justices reconsidered the matter and ordered the election to go forward.

Because of the shortened election cycle, some 25,000 polling places across the state were consolidated to about 12,500. The NAACP and other minority groups were worried that overcrowded, understaffed polling places could deprive people of their right to vote.

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