WASHINGTON – Voting machine malfunctions, long lines at precinct stations and charges of voter intimidation, vandalism and impertinent poll workers marred early voting Tuesday, and prompted a federal investigation in at least two states.
In Virginia, the FBI is looking into complaints of voter intimidation in the race between Republican Sen. George Allen and Democrat Jim Webb. One law enforcement source said one such instance appeared to consist of a phone call — a voter answered the phone prior to leaving for the local polling place and the caller asked who the voter was planning to support, then gave the address of a supposed polling station. The address was not correct, leading some in Richmond to think the voter was purposely misdirected.
Tracking this handful of reports is going to be "difficult," the source said.
In Indiana, the FBI was investigating allegations that a Democratic volunteer at a Monroe County polling site was found with unprocessed absentee ballots.
But complaints to the Justice Department about voting irregularities were in fact down from 2004.
Justice Department officials reported that the number of calls to the Voting Rights Hotline dipped sharply on this national Election Day compared to the last, with roughly 200 calls having rolled in by 6 pm EST. At the same time on Election Day 2004, 1,200 calls had come in.
The Voting Rights Hotline, though not widely advertised, was established by the department to give the voting public a direct line to federal civil rights officials should they believe their right to vote has been violated or compromised in some way.
One official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the calls have included some that need to be looked into, but many were of a variety that could not be explored. For example, some people called in to get the location of their polling places while others called in simply to complain about the basic hassle of casting a vote.
The Justice Department had dispatched 500 federal elections observers and 350 agency personnel to 69 cities and counties in 22 states. Department officials said the staff was deployed to "protect election-related civil rights."
The observers were ensuring that all eligible voters were able to cast a ballot and that they weren't challenged improperly on the "basis of their race, color, language or membership in a minority group," officials said.
They will also make sure poll workers are complying with the language provisions of the recently renewed Voting Rights Act. Officials said while many of the 850 monitors remained in the places where they started their mornings, others were shifted around among polling places in an effort to draw a larger picture of voting areas that could potentially offer problems.
Officials would not give specific locales, but the general consensus thus far in the voting day is that things have remained quiet. Monitors will stay throughout the night as vote counts are tallied.
Despite the overall satisfaction, several complaints were made throughout the day. In New Jersey, Republican Tom Kean Jr.'s campaign office was reportedly vandalized. A chain and padlock was placed on the front door and keys were broken off in the locks at the side entrances.
"It appears the Democrats have already resorted to Election Day dirty tricks," said Kean campaign manager Evan Kozlow, who said the "desperate ploys" will not prevent the campaign "from informing voters that Bob Menendez is under federal criminal investigation and is unfit to serve in the United States Senate."
Officials for Sen. Bob Menendez, who is seeking re-election after being appointed by Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine last year, denied his camp was involved with the vandalism.
"Desperate candidates will do desperate things," Menendez campaign staffer Brian Fallon told FOX News of Kean's allegations. "We obviously had nothing to do with it."
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In Pennsylvania, graffiti that included a Communist-style hammer and sickle along with the name of Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., was spray-painted on an overpass and a department store outside Springfield. Weldon's campaign accused backers of Democratic challenger Joe Sestak.
"Sestak supporters have brought negative campaigning to a new low," charged Michael Puppio, chairman of the Weldon Victory Committee. "This is an affront to local residents who work so hard to keep our community clean."
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In Louisville, Ky., one poll worker was arrested on charges of assault and interfering with an election after he allegedly choked a voter and tossed the voter out the door. Election officials called police, and the voter wanted to file charges, said Paula McCraney, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Clerk.
"That about tops off the day," McCraney said.
A man was also arrested at a polling site in Allentown, Pa., after after election workers said he smashed an electronic voting machine with a paperweight, police said. In Arizona, three men, one of them armed, stopped Hispanic voters and questioned them outside a Tucson polling place, according to voting monitors for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which photographed the incidents and reported them to the FBI.
In Michigan, the Web site for Republican Senate candidate Mike Bouchard was shut down after being hacked. The campaign said the site has been inundated by a distributed denial of service attack that overwhelmed the server. Federal authorities were being contacted.
Sen. Charles Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the most egregious voting irregularity he heard was erroneous literature being passed out at Maryland polls that said former Maryland Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume had endorsed the Republican candidates for governor and Senate, Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.
"That is totally false," Schumer said, adding that he spoke with Mfume earlier in the day. "We have countered very quickly with literature at all the major polling places."
Schumer sought to assure voters who had not yet cast ballots, saying Democrats "have thousands of lawyers who are at the polling places. By and large, the voting is proceeding very smoothly, and we want to assure voters, come out and vote, because you will be able to cast that ballot."
The Michigan Republican Party filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Democratic Party in Detroit, claiming Democratic poll challengers were in unlawfully instructing voters on election procedures and other matters.
Problems at the Polls
In Lebanon County, Pa., voting glitches forced people to cast paper ballots. Lebanon, Lancaster and Luzerne counties all extended poll hours as a result of voting problems. Some districts in Ohio and Indiana also stayed open late.
"There have been problems, unfortunately, across the commonwealth in many counties," said Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum. "We had at least over a dozen complaints of people who noticed that when they voted for one candidate it registered for the other, and in some cases had to vote several times in order to get it to work."
Santorum said his campaign was preparing reports about malfunctioning machines.
"It's certainly not good news. ... Congress passed a law requiring all those electronic voting and unfortunately, we're having a whole wrath of problems," Santorum said. "we've got problems here and we were afraid of that with the new voting system in place in such an important election, but we're going to try to work through it."
A Colorado state judge denied a motion by Democrats to keep polls open for an extra two hours there, ruling there was no irreparable injury to voters who were forced to wait in long lines Tuesday morning when voting machine problems occurred.
Problems also were reported in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin, among other states.
In North Carolina, about 100 voters were left waiting at a church because the poll worker who had the key showed up nearly an hour late. In Cleveland, some voters in 2004 waited in 14-hour lines, problems with ballot-reading machines caused big delays. For the first time, all 88 counties used electronic voting -- either touch-screens or paper ballots that are electronically scanned.
Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator of the Maryland Board of Elections, said there have been reports of "minor hiccups" — such as one polling station that opened 10 minutes late — but "nothing major."
In New Jersey, voters in at least seven jurisdictions attempting to vote for Kean and found their machines "locked" for Menendez, according to GOP Committee attorney Mark Sheridan, who called it a "disturbing and developing trend" emerging at the polls.
Sheridan said Republicans are trying to figure out if this is a result of computer error or malfeasance on the part of poll workers. He said it would be too much of a coincidence for anything other than "fraud."
But David Wald, a spokesman for the state attorney general, said observers at four districts in Paterson, N.J., watched polls for more than an hour and saw no instances of pre-selection. They were continuing to observe, he said.
In Kentucky, a county clerk had to draw up new paper ballots after one school board race was left off some ballots. In Richmond, Va., one voter was advised to come back later after a poll worker estimated the wait could be two hours.
In Indiana, a court order is allowing polls in one county to stay open until 9 p.m. local time after an an apparent programming error in the cards needed to start the voting booths kept voters from casting ballots in 75 precincts. In the state's largest county, paper ballots had to be used in more than 100 precincts after poll workers said they were having trouble setting up some voting machines.
In Shelby County, Tenn., some electronic ballots, called Smartcards disappeared. Local officials launched an investigation, but election officials are downplaying the effect, saying it's not likely fraud, but rather a mistake. They said even if the ballots are found they can't be used again.
Both parties appeared to be gearing up their attorneys for any possible legal challenges.
"It has always sort of troubled me because poll workers sometimes are very poorly trained, they may be volunteers, they may be people who have never done this before. So I think it's very constructive to have lawyers there because some of these people who are charged with telling people what their rights are don't really know the law as well as they should," said Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky.
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FOX News' Steve Brown, Carl Cameron, Ian McCaleb, Carol McKinley, Greg Simmons and The Associated Press contributed to this report.