NEW YORK – Dead people voting. Uncounted ballots. Hanging chads. Computer glitches.
Despite efforts to clean up election booths, voters may encounter a tangle of problems at the polls Tuesday.
"It's not really what people think — that it's all just Florida, but it's widespread," author and election researcher Bev Harris said of the problems that occur on Election Day. "We've always had problems no matter what we did, any election, anywhere."
The Election Reform Information Project predicts that at least 13 states face possible "election chaos" similar to the problems Florida suffered in 2000.
Georgia, Texas and Maryland are trying new, untested voting machines. Voting precincts in 28 states will again use the now well-known punchcards. Legal wrangling over races in Minnesota for the U.S. Senate and in Hawaii, where the late Rep. Patsy Mink's name is still on the ballot, are expected to crop up.
And both parties are posting their own lawyers at many polling places.
Federal officials were already investigating a voter fraud case on American-Indian reservations in six counties in South Dakota, home to one of the tightest U.S. Senate races in the nation.
Arkansas Republicans claim that Democrats are trying to steal that Senate election by illegally allowing early voting on the weekend and not asking for identification to vote as required under new election law. The GOP said at least six dead people also tried to register to vote.
Election officials said they know there will be problems, but states are trying as best as they can.
"It's a lot of pressure on counties and local municipalities conducting those elections to do it appropriately, and they know people are going to be watching," said Maine Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky, who is also president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.
Gwadosky said states have tried to move voting into the 21st century with limited funds. He said that the newly enacted voting reform bill, with its $3.8 billion infusion to state elections divisions, will help.
"If there was one good thing to come out of Florida from the public's perspective, elections are not just a one-day event anymore," Gwadosky said. "They're about process, standards, registration, they're also about people."
And the people will have a place to complain if polling doesn't go as smoothly as they would like. VoteWatch.us, a new site where voters can immediately report voter machine errors, polling place obstacles and other problems, is up and running.
Voters can log on to the site and enter into chat rooms to discuss their problems at the polls. Moderators with expertise in election law, software, computers, and other areas will be on hand to advise users on what steps they can take.
The site also provides tips on how to spot problems with new electronic voting machines.
If VoteWatch.us sees trends that may put some of the country's races at stake, site monitors immediately alert the media. It will be up to local or state election officials, or the candidate who has been wronged, to act on the problems.
"The idea is to try to be as nonpartisan and bipartisan on this as possible," said software engineer Jack Maples. "Any action that's initiated is really going to have to come from the political parties themselves."
"If there's a problem, we need to get in there, count the votes and make sure it's right," added Harris, who researched voting system problems for VoteWatch.us.
VoteWatch founder Steven Hertzberg said he was extremely concerned about problems demonstrated after 2000 and by recent voting snafus like troubles reported with polling machines in the Florida Democratic primary.
But some in the voting technology industry say although there is still work to be done, voting systems have come a long way and new technology has a future in our election system.
"I think today's election equipment does a helluva lot better than punchcards, but there's certainly room for improvement in order to bolster confidence in every election," said VoteHere President Jim Adler. "It comes down to voter confidence and trust … the voters need to know what they cast is what got counted."