Dumbocracy: Hundreds Try to Vote on the Wrong Day

Blinded by Super Tuesday hype, voters in some states show up at closed polls.

ByRUSSELL GOLDMAN

Feb. 6, 2008— -- Hoping to vote early, vote often — or both — thousands of citizens from some of the 27 states that did not hold primaries or caucuses on Super Tuesday mistakenly turned out to cast ballots anyway. Many of them called local officials to complain their polls were closed.

Caught up in the buzz surrounding yesterday's contests — the biggest day of primary balloting in this or any previous year — voters in states like Washington, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia, which won't hold primaries until later this month, showed up at shuttered polling places and called their boards of elections to complain.

Several hundred people in Florida, mostly in Palm Beach and Orange counties, contacted their county supervisors to complain they could not vote. They actually could have voted, only a week earlier when the state held its primary on Jan. 29.

"I'm hearing Super Tuesday, Super Tuesday, Super Tuesday all week and all month long. I just figured it was voting for everybody. I didn't hear anything different for Wisconsin, though I guess maybe I should have," said Ethel "Penny" Goodwin of Milwaukee, who along with half a dozen neighbors showed up at a local school yesterday at 6:30 a.m. to be first to vote.

But all is not lost. Wisconsin will hold its primary on Feb. 19.

Goodwin, a schoolteacher in her 60s, was not discouraged by her failed attempt to vote in what she called a "history-making election."

"I'll be there again on the 19th at 6:30, even though the doors don't open until 7:00. I want to take part in this history-making election. I wouldn't miss it for the world," she said.

Goodwin certainly wasn't alone in wanting to vote but getting the day wrong.

About 700 people called the Virginia Board of Elections to complain that their polling stations were closed, said Valerie Jones, the board's deputy secretary.

"We got about 700 calls from people complaining that their polling places were closed," said Jones. "We had to explain to them they were a bit premature and that our primary is not until Tuesday, February 12, and we encouraged them to vote then."

"Some people were surprised or upset, but how could they really be angry about it? We just had to say, 'Guess what folks, we're not part of Super Tuesday,'" she said.

Much of the confusion, like much of the buzz, was a result this year of an unprecedented number of states holding primaries on the same day, leading some to dub the day "Super Duper Tuesday" and likening it to a national primary. As the states jostled last year to move their primaries earlier on the calendar, many ended up scheduling a vote for yesterday, Feb. 5.

In Florida, the secretary of state's office received some 250 complaints from voters who tried to vote and couldn't because the polls were closed — and had been for a week, since the state held its primary the previous week.

"Statewide, we received about 250 calls from individuals to complain about showing up and not being able to vote," said office spokesman Sterling Ivey.

Most of the complaints, Ivey said, came from Palm Beach and Orange counties "probably because of their large populations of people from northern states who mixed up the dates."

In the city of Philadelphia, 500-700 people called to complain about not being able to vote, said Bob Lee, the voter registration adminstrator.

"We started getting calls at 6:30 in the morning, and by 10:00 at night I was getting calss from people saying they hadn't voted and wondering if they could mail in their ballots," he said.

The Pennsylvania primary is Apr. 22.

In Wisconsin, where Penny Goodwin and her neighbors turned out to vote, election officials couldn't blame the snowbirds, so they fingered cable news instead.

"As much as we try to let people know when to vote, people are watching the national cable networks and not paying attention to local TV and radio," said Kyle Richmond, spokesman for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.

"The good news is no one was disenfranchised. Anyone who wants to vote will still have the chance to," he said.

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