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November 07. 2012 3:06AM

Long lines a headache at city polls

MANCHESTER - There were long lines at city at polling stations Tuesday, not only to get in the voting booths, but to place ballots in scanning machines.

The back-ups began when scanning machines became full or jammed. Because of the high volume of voters, that happened several times at polling stations in the city, including in Wards 2, 4 and 8.

Manchester City Clerk Matthew Normand authorized a stopgap measure, allowing voters who did not want to wait until the machine was ready to scan ballots again to leave them in a box next to the machine.

That method may run afoul of state law. Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice said ballots can be stored in boxes, as long as the box is locked and placed inside the "guardrail," where access is controlled and the ward moderator can say the ballots have not been tampered with.

Normand noted that the boxes were kept within the guardrail and were under the watch of an election worker at all times.

"There was nothing out of the ordinary," Normand said. "There have been tabulator issues pretty much in every presidential election," he said.

Ward moderators expressed some qualms about using the boxes.

At the Ward 4 polling station, at McDonough Elementary School, moderator Margaretann Hart said the ballot machine jammed on occasion. Voters would have to wait around five minutes until it was fixed. She said she thought it was illegal for election officials to touch ballots.

Lynn Lavigne, the moderator for Ward 8, at Memorial High School, said she allowed voters to leave their ballots after contacting the city clerk's office.

"The city gave us permission, if (voters) didn't want to wait in line - it was so horrendous. We would keep the ballots right next to the machine. The staff would not leave them, and they would feed them through in quiet moments," Lavigne said.

Similar problems arose in the 2008 presidential election, which saw record turnout.

Lavigne said moderators had asked City Hall about getting more than one machine for busy wards after 2008.

"We can only hope" they'll listen, Lavigne said.

The problems may have been compounded Tuesday because voters had two ballots to feed into the machine, a state ballot and a city charter commission ballot.

Secretary of State William Gardner experienced the problem firsthand when he voted Tuesday morning at Hillside Middle School in Manchester's Ward 2.

"In my years of voting, I've never seen lines so long as I'd seen putting two ballots into the optical scanner. Usually you might have two to three people waiting. There were lines snaking around the room," Gardner said.


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