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Long lines mar Super Tuesday voting in two biggest states

Voters stood in line for two hours at some California precincts on Super Tuesday, but that was nothing to what some voters endured in Texas, where some ballots were finally being cast at midnight.

The two biggest delegate prizes on Super Tuesday also became the two biggest headaches for voters, and for different reasons. A new voting system in Los Angeles County and a bevy of new statewide election reforms conspired to slow the process for scores of California voters. In Texas, a party-controlled primary system that includes requiring equal numbers of voting machines for both major political parties appears to be a key reason thousands of Democratic voters were stuck at polling places for five, six even seven hours.

“I first tried to vote at 1 p.m. Central time, and finally got done at 6:05. I have never had an experience like this before,” said Ahmed King, a radiology technician in Houston.

He said he was able to vote only after giving up on long lines in majority African American areas and heading to a polling place in a predominantly white and Latino neighborhood. In 2019, Harris County adopted a system, also used by many other Texas counties, that lets voters cast their ballot at any polling place in the county.

Bryan Escobedo waited four hours to cast his ballot at Texas Southern University in Houston. Afterward, he told the Houston Chronicle that some voters were sharing painkillers and water to help them get through the grueling wait time.

“This is the worst voting experience I’ve ever had,” he told the newspaper. “If it’s hard, that means you have to do it. They bank on people walking away.”

Elections officials in Harris County, which includes Houston, deployed between 90 and 100 reserve voting machines to some polling places with the longest lines, but it was too little too late for some. King and other voters said they saw a number of people just giving up and walking away without casting a ballot.

“Texas has some of the lowest voting rates, and we are making it harder for people," said Mary Moreno, spokeswoman for the Texas Organizing Project.

Super Tuesday opened in Tennessee with a deadly tornado, which killed more than two dozen people and damaged more than a dozen polling sites in Nashville's Davidson County. The state Democratic Party and the four leading candidates for the party's presidential nomination sued successfully to keep the polls open several hours beyond the scheduled closing time.

Fears of the coronavirus complicated voting in some parts of the country early in the day, after poll workers failed to show up. County election officials quickly back-filled those spots, and voting resumed.

While there were scattered reports of voting glitches in several of the states voting on Super Tuesday, California and Texas, the nation's most populous states, had the most noticeable problems.

The supervisor of elections in Texas' Harris County blamed the long lines at some polling locations on having to treat both parties the same even though only one had a contested presidential primary. Michael Winn said he tried to have a shared primary where voters no matter their party would have used the same equipment to cast their ballots, but Republicans refused.

He said people voted in the Democratic primary at a 2-to-1 margin compared to Republicans.

California experienced problems statewide thanks to newer voting reforms such as same-day registration and a surge in voters eager to cast a ballot in the hotly contested presidential primary. That left more than a dozen counties temporarily unable to access the state's voter registration database.

In Los Angeles County, electronic poll books that are connected to the state's voter database were operating slowly because of the high number of voters, County Registrar-Recorder spokesman Mike Sanchez said. The county brought in technicians and added devices in some polling places to move lines along.

Even so, delays were two hours or longer in some locations. Beverly Hills City Councilman Julian Gold said waiting times there were 2 1/2 to 3 hours. He said he was told the delays were related to voter check-in.

“There's a lot of frustration (and) people walk away," he said. "I don't know if they'll come back. I hope they do.”

At a vote center in Silver Lake, near downtown Los Angeles, poll workers said computer network issues slowed the voter check-in process and made some machines unusable. About one-third of the approximately 40 machines were being used, and some had “out of order” signs taped to them. The resulting line meant it took about an hour for voters to cast their ballot.

Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, described problems with poll books around the country as “intermittent I.T. issues” and said intelligence agency had detected no malicious influence on Tuesday's elections.

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Cassidy reported from Atlanta; Sainz reported from Memphis.

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Associated Press writers Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, Jake Bleiberg in Dallas, Kate Brumback in Atlanta, Stefanie Dazio and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles, Ben Fox and Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., Doug Glass in Minneapolis, Juan Lozano in Houston, Jonathan Mattise in Nashville and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, and contributed to this report.