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Voting problems widespread

WASHINGTON — Trouble with electronic voting machines and confusion over identification rules frustrated voters across the country Tuesday, creating delays in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado.

At dozens of precincts, delays were so long that some voters left without casting a ballot. Problems with voting machines in Delaware County, Ind., prompted a local judge to rule that polls there could remain open nearly three hours past the regular closing time to make up for late openings.

In Ohio, several precincts failed to open on time because of technical glitches. At least one precinct in Broward County, Fla., opened more than three hours late because of machine-related problems.

A U.S. District judge in Cleveland ordered polling places there to remain open for extended hours, amid complaints that late openings and long lines had forced voters away earlier in the day. A request for similar extensions was denied by a district judge in Denver, where computer failures and heavy voter turnout overwhelmed polling stations throughout the day and led to two-hour waits in some voter lines.

Election experts say the problems scattered across the country illustrate the major flaws in the nation's voting systems despite federal and state efforts to improve them.

"It's not just glitches," said Tova Wang, a fellow at the Century Foundation, which recently released a report on election problems. "There are major problems with poll workers across the country not knowing how to use the machines, incidents of voter intimidation and people being asked for ID when they shouldn't."

And voters in many states reported confusion because of identification requirements, registration problems, voter intimidation and poll workers failing to show up at precincts. Many of the reported problems are in states with hotly contested races.

"The reality of what is going on is completely unacceptable," said Sharon Lettman, of the People for the American Way Foundation. "This is not a myth. This is not a conspiracy theory. Our system is broken."

Even some high-profile public officials had trouble voting. In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Mark Sanford was turned away at his precinct because he didn't have his voter registration card.

In Ohio, Rep. Jean Schmidt was frustrated by an optical scanning machine that wasn't taking ballots, and Rep. Steve Chabot was turned away from his precinct because his driver's license was issued to his business office, not his home.

"If elected officials who are in charge of the system or are very familiar with how things work have problems, how can ordinary citizens be expected to negotiate the system?" asked Brenda Wright with the National Voting Rights Institute.

Despite reports of problems, the Justice Department's hotline had logged only about 200 calls by 6 p.m.

Civil rights and government watchdog groups, however, had received more than 31,000 calls by late evening from voters to their national hotlines.

"There are more widespread" problems than in 2004 when many were concentrated in states such as Ohio, said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "That's troubling."

Contributing: Cox News Service