Gov. Jeb Bush ordered election supervisors across Florida to keep polling sites open two extra hours Tuesday night to allow voters turned away this morning by a glut of hitches in several counties the chance to cast ballots.
Gubernatorial candidate Janet Reno (D) had filed an emergency request with Secretary of State Jim Smith claiming that thousands of voters who showed up at their polling sites this morning were unable to enter, either because the poll location hadn't opened, or because new machines were on the fritz. She then threatened to send her lawyers to court.
Smith, a Republican, agreed with Reno, and urged Bush to sign the emergency executive order.
The governor, who may face Reno in November's general election, affixed his signature just after 2 p.m. ET.
Polls closed at 9 p.m. ET, instead of 7 p.m throughout most of the state.
Voting on Florida's panhandle, which extends into the Central Time Zone, didn't end until 10 ET.
And full results were delayed by a hand recount in populous Orange County in central Florida. A type of optical scan ballot tore when being fed into the machine, so election supervisors manually examined each one beginning at 9 p.m.
Though Democratic and Republican Party officials, as well as state election administrators, were confident that the election was proceeding as smoothly as possible, at least a dozen counties reported glitches, ranging from broken machines to bewildered poll workers and confused voters.
"This is going to take a few tries," said a top state election official. "We're doing about as good as we thought we'd do."
Forty-one of 67 counties, or about 50 percent of voters, were casting ballots on unfamiliar equipment.
Across the state, several hundred trained poll workers failed to show up, and dozens who did were often unsure how to fix broken machines.
Most mechanical problems involved new touch screen machines manufactured by Election Systems & Software, Inc.
Mike Lymas, ES&S's COO, told ABCNEWS that human error and the sheer number of electronic voting booths in use contributed to the "teething problems," especially in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, where election supervisors had predicted shortages of qualified poll workers as early as last week.
In Duval County, which encompasses Jacksonville and its suburbs, workers at one poll site didn't realize they were supposed to turn on the machines. After waiting an hour and a half for technicians to arrive, they discovered their error.
Not Open on Time
State law requires polls to open at 7 a.m. But it doesn't spell out the penalties if the doors are locked.
Voters waited for at least two hours outside of precinct 288 in downtown Miami as technicians rushed to repair software that was on the blink. Many simply gave up and left. Others wondered why there weren't provisional paper ballots to use instead of the electronic machines.
The Miami Herald said its reporters found poll delays in Coral Springs, Sunrise, Hollywood, Pembroke Pines, Weston and Plantation, Fla.
Reno herself had to wait 15 minutes when she showed up at a church near her Kendall home to vote at 7 a.m.
These and a swarm of phone calls by Reno volunteers helped to convince her campaign to call a midday press conference, where they urged Bush extend polling hours through 9 p.m, two hours late.
"With they eyes of the whole world watching Florida's first major election since the 2000 [presidential] recount, it is more important than ever that our state proactively takes steps to protect every person's right to vote," Reno said in a statement.
Political analysts quickly noted that a Reno victory in the Democratic gubernatorial primary is predicated on high turnout among black and elderly voters in South Florida, so they doubted that her motives were entirely pure.
But Reno's leading opponent, lawyer Bill McBride, did not object.
Bush had joked with reporters earlier this morning that Democrats had unusual troubles with voting.
But his executive order was sober:
"Under this unique combination of circumstances, there is a possibility that certain residents of our state could be deprived of a meaningful opportunity to vote and that certain election officials will be unable to conduct an orderly election," it read.
Some elections officials wondered aloud whether they'd be able to inform all the precincts in their county before 7 p.m.
Volusia County voter outreach director Debbie Allen comandeered phones in the county administration building in order to reach all hundred-plus precincts there.
In Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, community relations cooridnator Laquinda Brewington said that 70 county employees had been diverted to the task.
Problems in Other Counties
A few other counties have been touched by unrelated problems:
In Orange County, election officials will count 42 percent of an estimated 400,000 ballots by hand, because tens of thousands of them appear to trip up the electronic ballot reader.
That could take hours and might delay the results for several key races.
"We're going to be welcoming Wednesday morning here at the job," said Ryan Banfill, the Florida Democratic Party communications director.
The Orange County Democratic Executive Committee will monitor the recount, along with county Republicans.
In Duval County, a half dozen disability activists protested allegedly deficient equipment designed to help them vote. And an elections official said that two precincts downtown did not open until 9 a.m.
In Seminole County, a few hundred voters showed up at the wrong polling place, owing to confusing over a precinct redrawn during redistricting.
But other counties reported no problems.
A Hillsborough County official said that fewer than a half dozen precincts out of nearly 600 reported problems. Voters there also used the touch screen ballots.
Sarasota County Elections Supervisor Kathy Dent said her region was relatively trouble free, and that plenty of poll workers were available to staff precincts.
"We started hiring them early, and we have more than enough," she said.
ABCNEWS' Jeffrey Kofman and Charles Herman contributed to this report from Miami. ABCNEWS' Brooke Brower contributed from Washington.