Voting goes smoothly in many places

— -- A few polling places opened late or were understaffed. Some voters discovered they weren't registered or were asked for ID when it wasn't required. Electronic or optical-scan machines broke down in some states, causing paper ballots to pile up. Emergency backup ballots were underutilized in some places, overutilized in others.

And from Virginia to New Mexico, some voters were told to vote on Wednesday — or later.

In other words, it was a normal Election Day. Although all those problems cropped up across the country today, they weren't widespread. Election officials chalked it up to preparation — and perhaps a bit of prayer.

"We're the most prepared we've ever been for an election," said Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, which represents state and local election officials. Since 2000, he said, "we've been running elections getting prepared for this election."

Indeed, 2008 represents the first presidential election in which all the provisions of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 are supposed to be in effect. That means improvements in voting equipment, registration databases and disability access.

For the most part Tuesday, it seems to have worked. While voting-rights groups fielded tens of thousands of calls from confused voters, no widespread problems were reported — not even in Florida or Ohio, the two states with the most problems in 2000 and 2004.

"By all accounts, issues that arise are being dealt with immediately, and voters are moving through the process pretty smoothly," said Rosemary Rodriguez, chairwoman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

The early voting phenomenon may have played a role. About 30% of the nation's voters cast ballots before Tuesday, reducing pressure on polling places. That was expected to keep attendance at the polls below 100 million — a more manageable figure than the 130 million officials were anticipating.

A coalition of voting-rights groups led by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law reported lines of up to seven hours in Chesapeake City, Va., and lengthy lines in Philadelphia and Detroit. Some of the longest lines and biggest voting-machine problems were in states with little or no early voting.

"We're going to see that the higher the early-voting numbers, the fewer the problems," predicted Paul Gronke, who runs the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Oregon.

Widespread early voting in battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Mexico and North Carolina also may have given election officials a heads-up on the types of problems likely to occur on Election Day, said Doug Chapin, director of the Pew Charitable Trust's

"We haven't seen any of the kinds of problems that people were worried about," Chapin said.

A look at key states

• In Colorado, voting has gone relatively smoothly — an improvement over 2006, when Denver had long lines.

"Colorado is doing a great job," said Jenny Flanagan, executive director of Colorado Common Cause. "But there are some bumps along the road."

One such bump was in Weld County, which includes the city of Greeley and has a large Hispanic population. There weren't enough translators for Spanish-speaking voters. "When you're serving a community, when voters do their part, the government and our counties need to do their part too, and get as many people voting as we can," Flanagan said.

• In Florida, some counties had problems with optical scanners, causing paper ballots to pile up in secure bins under the machines for counting later. Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said a coalition of voting-rights groups had received reports of machine breakdowns in 15 counties, including Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

Elections officials started putting some ballots in duffel bags where they would be stored and counted later, Greenbaum said, calling the practice unsafe. "They need to come up with a method to make sure people's ballots are safe," he said.

Dan McCrea, president of the Florida Voters Coalition, said many voters also did not receive their absentee ballots in time.

In north Tampa, Mike Wallace waited about 70 minutes at Wharton High School in north Tampa but was not able to vote. He said precinct workers could not find proof of his registration. But his wife, Patty, who registered with him in 2000, was allowed to vote without a hitch.

"They said I'm not in the system anywhere," said Wallace, 51, who didn't wait long enough to get a provisional ballot. "I'm not going to be the only person this is going to happen to."

Ariel Armaiz, 42, who didn't vote in 2004, also had a problem with his registration but waited until it was resolved, and he was given a provisional ballot.

• In Michigan, thousands of voters on Detroit's east side waited five hours to vote at one understaffed polling place. In Oakland County, a wealthy suburb outside Detroit, machines in four communities failed accuracy tests before Tuesday's election. Deputy clerk Jim VanLeuven said the county would hand-count ballots if necessary.

Rana Elmir, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the group would monitor the situation through the night.

• In Missouri, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan urged voters to ignore misleading text messages and "robocalls" from around the state that tell Democratic voters to wait to cast their ballots because of heavy turnout.

The messages were forwarded to the secretary of state's office by several voters and have been sent to the U.S. Attorney's office for further investigation. Laura Egerdal, a spokeswoman for Carnahan, said the messages had the potential to "do some real damage" among first-time voters.

• In Ohio, early voting, an increase in the number of voting machines and a plan to use paper ballots as backups if lines got too long appeared to have reduced the strain on polling places that caused turmoil in 2004.

Daniel Tokaji, an election law expert at Ohio State University's law school, said voting was remarkably smooth, and voters were upbeat about their experience.

"The mood is decidedly different than four years ago, when people were angry and upset about long lines and badly managed polling places," Tokaji said. "It's hard to get the words out: Things look good in Ohio."

• In Pennsylvania, officials downplayed reports of voting-machine malfunctions in the heavily Democratic cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Responding to a report by the voting-rights coalition that machines didn't work for part of the election in at least 12 precincts, Department of State spokeswoman Leslie Amorossaid, "That's not widespread."

Pennsylvania, the nation's sixth most populous state, has nearly 9,300 election precincts. "There may be a machine that goes down," Amoros said, but voters can still cast ballots on replacement machines or emergency ballots. "The process overall has been working fairly well," she said.

• In Virginia, voters in the northern part of the state were given a choice of voting methods, which helped to speed things up. "That did a lot for lines in the morning," Chapin said. Some voters weren't given backup ballots when they should have, but those problems were corrected, said Rokey Suleman, supervisor of elections in Fairfax County.

Some of the longest lines in the nation were in the Chesapeake area, where voters waited up to seven hours to vote after machines malfunctioned. But elsewhere, things were going smoothly. At Frances Hazel Reid Elementary School in Leesburg, where the wait was about 30 minutes in the morning, election chief Rich Claar said, "I've gotten compliments."

Dirty tricks at the polls?

In addition to the normal election administration issues, voting-rights groups identified an increase in vote-suppression efforts using text messages, fliers and automatic phone calls containing misinformation about when people could vote. Some messages appeared targeted at suppressing Democratic votes by saying Republicans should vote on Tuesday and Democrats on Wednesday, said Jonah Goldman, director of the Campaign for Fair Elections at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Many vote-suppression efforts appeared aimed at college students and involved text messages and postings on Facebook sites accessed by thousands of students. "This is really something that's tremendously widespread," Goldman said.

At Virginia Tech in western Virginia, a polling place was apparently moved to a spot 6 miles from campus, said Heather Smith of Rock the Vote. The group worked with a local bus company to drive students to the precinct, though when students arrived, they had to wait up to three hours on a winding two-lane highway, she said.

Students at Drexel University in Philadelphia received misleading fliers telling them that if they tried to vote and had unpaid parking tickets, they would be arrested at the polls, Smith said.

Contributing: Emily Bazar in Denver, Colo.; Marisol Bello in Detroit; Dennis Cauchon in Columbus, Ohio; Larry Copeland in Tampa; Andrea Stone in Leesburg, Va.; and the Associated Press.