Early Voters Help Ease Election Day Gridlock

California voters faced few problems at the polls on Tuesday, despite isolated cases of power outages and fear of some ballot shortages in what election officials predict will be a record-breaking turnout for a historic election.

In one case, a voter complained a ballot he received was already marked for a candidate.

Overall, voting ran smoothly at polling sites throughout the state barring the logistical challenge of running an election for 17.3 million registered voters, many of them eager to put an African-American president or woman vice president in the White House for the first time.

In Los Angeles County, home to a quarter of the state's registered voters, an estimated 59.2 percent of voters had cast a ballot as of 4 p.m -- up from 52.6 percent at the same hour in 2004.

"I think we're certainly going to see record-breaking turnout," said Dean Logan, the county's registrar of voters.

Three Los Angeles area polling locations were moved outside because of apparent power outages caused by light morning rain that later gave way to clear skies.

In Los Angeles, some poll workers said they worried about running out of ballots because of the heavy turnout. Each precinct has emergency ballots that can be used if needed, Logan said.

California secretary of state's office did not receive reports of voting problems besides the power outages in Los Angeles and poll workers who overslept, said spokeswoman Kate Folmar.

Record-breaking voter registration -- which pushed the state's voter rolls 5 percent higher than in the 2004 presidential election -- led officials to add precincts and poll workers and order more ballots to meet the expected demand.

While Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has held a hefty lead in state polls over Republican contender John McCain, polls have predicted a close race on statewide ballot measures on parental notification for abortion and gay marriage.

"I'm stoked. This is a historic event," said Andrew Lind, 28, who wore a green Barack Obama T-shirt under his jacket as he stood in line at an elementary school in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles.

In Glendale, Ichiro Yoshizawa, 79, said he voted for McCain because his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam would make him a good commander-in-chief.

"That shows me that he loves his country first," Yoshizawa said.

At many polling places, voters lined up before the polls opened after seeing hours-long lines at county registrar offices during early voting over the last week.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Patti Negri, who has overseen elections in a Hollywood neighborhood since 1990. People were already lined up when she arrived at 6 a.m.

"Everyone's in fabulous spirit," she said. "People are waiting in a long line and are proud of it."

Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, said she's been fielding calls from voters who say they're not on the rolls at their polling places.

Feng said the call center run by election watchdogs has gotten complaints from voters who say people are electioneering outside their poll site -- but the bulk of troubles are logistical.

"The only thing that is systemwide is there's this tremendous crush of voters that it has overwhelmed the system," Feng said.

In Los Angeles, Logan said updated voter lists were delivered to some precincts after the polls had already opened, which could have led some people to vote provisionally.

In Stanislaus County, a voter asked for help when he saw his Spanish-language ballot was marked with a black pen for Obama. He said a second ballot he was handed had been marked, too.

Registrar Lee Lundrigan said a field inspector checked all the remaining ballots, which were "unmarked and clean." Both ballots were voided and sent to county offices for examination.

Election officials expect lines will grow longer after voters get off work. In San Francisco, officials expect voters will still be in line when polls close, delaying the release of preliminary vote tallies until 9:45 p.m. or later.

Nearly 4.3 million people had cast their ballots by mail by Tuesday afternoon, according to a statewide association of election officials. But that still leaves nearly 3 million mail-in ballots outstanding -- many which could be dropped off at polling places before they close.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said voter turnout could reach 80 percent. About 76 percent of the state's eligible voters cast ballots for president in 2004.

"So far, we're not seeing any major meltdowns in California," Alexander said.

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