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Experts cite prospect of election 'chaos'

New equipment, tight races could spell trouble

From Kate Snow and Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

A voter in Tennessee casts her ballot during the state's early voting period.
A voter in Tennessee casts her ballot during the state's early voting period.

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Many voters will continue with older voting technology, while newer methods are being tested around the country. CNN's Kate Snow reports.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- This year's midterm election has the potential for the same kind of confusion that marked the presidential election of 2000, according to experts, who say little has changed over the past two years about the way the nation votes.

"There is a potential for chaos," said Doug Chapin, direction of, a non-partisan Web site that serves as a clearinghouse for election information. "Can't predict where it'll be, but there is definitely potential."

Unlike 2000, there is no presidential race, so it's unlikely there will be any single post-election battle that could captivate the nation in quite the same way as when Democrat Al Gore went to the courts to push for a recount in certain Florida counties. The Supreme Court rebuffed his effort about five weeks after the election, a move that allowed Republican George Bush to claim victory.

But there are several states where races for either the governor or Senate are expected to be close, and some states are trotting out new equipment that could prove troublesome Election Day.

Case in point: Florida. During the Democratic gubernatorial primary in September, some voters complained they had to wait in line for hours to vote because of problems with new equipment. And some poll workers didn't know how to run the new machines.

Some tight and odd races could also make for less-than-clear results next Tuesday night. Consider these states:

•In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu could be forced into a runoff if she doesn't grab at least 50 percent of the vote in a race with eight other candidates.

•In Minnesota, the Senate contest between Democrat Walter Mondale and Republican Norm Coleman is ripe with the potential for a post-election fight if the outcome is tight and the question of absentee ballots -- sent out before the death of Paul Wellstone -- becomes key.

•In Hawaii, there is the possibility that a dead congresswoman will be re-elected, a result that would lead to a special election. Democratic Rep. Patsy Mink died before her name could be taken off the ballot.

start quoteThere are going to be some problems.end quote
-- Dan Gwadosky, National Association of Secretaries of State

Some states are trying out new equipment. In Georgia, for example, voters will face new ATM-style voting machines -- being put to their first big test in a year featuring a key and close Senate race between incumbent Democrat Max Cleland and GOP challenger Saxby Chambliss.

"States are going to work very hard to avoid the types of issues that people experienced two years ago, but I think it's fair to say that there are going to be some problems," said Dan Gwadosky, president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

President Bush recently signed a election-reform bill, but the changes outlined in that bill will not take effect this year.

The potential for trouble is underscored by the fact that there is no one system of voting nationwide. Not only do the methods vary by state, but they can also vary by county. The methods include punch cards, levers, paper ballot, optical scans and electronic machines.

Experts say the potential problem isn't simply a matter of the machines -- which are subject to malfunctions or vulnerable to power failures -- but also the people who operate and use them.

"Poll workers are a crucial element of the election process," said Chapin. "You can buy new machines, you can educate voters, but really the poll workers are the bridge between the polling place and the voter."

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