Few large obstacles despite large turnout

— -- Polling places opened late or were understaffed. Voters found 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 underused in some places, overused 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 Tuesday, 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 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 more than 40,000 calls from confused voters, few widespread problems were reported — not even in Florida or Ohio, the two states with the most problems in 2000 and 2004.

"We're hearing about large turnout, and not very much about large problems," said Rosemary Rodriguez, chairwoman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. "By all accounts, issues that arise are being dealt with immediately, and voters are moving through the process pretty smoothly."

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 kept attendance at the polls Tuesday below 100 million — a more manageable figure than the 130 million voters expected to cast ballots overall.

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, 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 Electionline.org.

A look at key states

•In Colorado, voting went 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.

•In Florida, some counties had problems with optical scanners, causing paper ballots to pile up in secure bins under the machines for counting later. Secretary of State Kurt Browning said the problems were not widespread. "I would venture a guess that it's less than dozens," he said. "The voting equipment is working very well today."

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.

In north Tampa, Mike Wallace waited about 70 minutes but was not able to vote because precinct workers could not find proof of his registration. His wife, Patty, who registered with him in 2000, voted 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."

•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.

•In Missouri, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan urged voters to ignore misleading text messages and "robo-calls" 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.

•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.

"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 Amorós said, "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," Amorós said, but voters can still cast ballots on replacement machines or emergency ballots.

•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."

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