Voting equipment changes could get messy on Nov. 4

In New York, which is under a consent order to comply with the federal law, officials are happy with their lever machines, a system in use since the 1800s. "They've proven themselves over 100 years," says Robert Brehm of the state Board of Elections.

Eight counties in Idaho, meanwhile, are the lone holdouts with punch cards, which they can keep because they didn't take federal money to replace them.

"If it's not broke, I don't see a reason to fix it," says Ron Longmore, county clerk in Bonneville, which includes Idaho Falls. All that's needed is to clean the area where chads fall, he says.

'From one disaster to another'

Here at the ground zero of voting controversy, journalists from Britain and Brazil, Russia and the Middle East tour the site of the Great Electoral Meltdown of 2000. Reporters descend on early voters such as Karen Backus, who says she tried to vote for Gore eight years ago, but the poorly designed butterfly ballot gave her vote to Pat Buchanan.

Backus, 66, waited 45 minutes last week to vote. After using a pencil to fill in broken arrows on her ballot and feeding the ballot through a scanner, she felt confident her vote would count.

But Al Kaplan had to wait an extra half-hour for a malfunctioning printer to spit out his ballot. An ex-New Yorker like many of his neighbors, Kaplan, 77, yearns for the lever machines of his youth. "I don't think they've made any strides," he says.

Officials are confident the system can withstand a tsunami of voters that already has begun at 11 early voting sites around the county. All the scanners have passed their accuracy tests, and new procedures — along with yellow police tape — are in place to prevent lost ballots.

Merriman, who helped the county earn $250,000 by selling its punch-card machines as souvenirs on eBay, is praying for anonymity next week. Then he can get back to his other duties, like supervising the county's response to hurricanes.

"I kind of float from one disaster to another," he says. "I just hope this election won't be one."

The fight to vote

What could go wrong on Election Day? Here's what to look for:

Sources: Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law; Common Cause; Pew Center on the States; and USA TODAY research

READERS: Report any problems you've had voting this year in the comment section below.

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