COLUMBUS, Ohio - A big turnout, voting-machine breakdowns and misinformation about voter eligibility requirements snarled balloting at many of the nation's polling places Tuesday, forcing voters to wait as long as five hours to cast their ballots.
The crush of voters apparently took many county election officials by surprise.
Allegations of voting rights, other irregularities and "inexcusable" election planning flew in the swing states of Ohio, Virginia and Florida. Virginia and Florida held polls open until midnight for voters who were in line when they were scheduled to close.
In Pennsylvania, a state that Republicans hoped would deliver Mitt Romney a surprise upset, complaints poured in of voters being falsely informed of photo ID requirements that had been set aside by the courts. In Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, dozens and perhaps many more voters' names were missing from the rolls, creating suspicions of an improper purge of eligible voters' names.
Despite the lessons of recent presidential elections in which voters waited long hours at inner-city polls, in cities big and small it was deja vu on Tuesday.
In Richland County, S.C., Sharon Bruce waited for nearly five hours to vote. In Missouri, the Secretary of State's Office predicted turnout would be 72 percent, up from 69 percent four years ago.
"We were just hammered," said Johnson County, Kan., Election Commissioner Brian D. Newby.
Voters across Virginia endured long waits - up to five hours in Chesapeake, said Barbara Arnwine, president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and leader of the Election Protection coalition, which dispatched 7,000 volunteers, including 5,000 lawyers, to patrol the balloting nationwide.
"Everybody has known for at least the last two weeks how strong the early voting has been in the states that allowed it," Arnwine said. "These other states have seen that and should have been prepared for a massive voter turnout. Instead, they have insufficiently staffed - insufficient machines, insufficient polling sites. Inexcusable. It really requires that our nation look at and examine how we are administering our democracy."
While results from storm-devastated New Jersey were not expected to affect the final outcome, election watchdogs labeled its voting process "a catastrophe" after a late decision to allow email voting crashed computer servers and jammed fax lines in large counties. Facing a potentially huge disenfranchisement of voters, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno extended balloting until 8 p.m. Friday.
Ohio's system for verifying registered voters has drawn fire after 33,000 applicants for absentee ballots were wrongfully turned away. They were mistakenly told that they were not registered to vote - an oversight that state officials blamed on a data-sharing problem with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
On the east side of Columbus, Ohio, many first-time voters flocked to the Blackburn Recreation Center, including 21-year-old Tyreshia Cody, a restaurant worker and part-time college student. Cody said poll workers helped steer her through the confusion, because "I didn't have any idea what I was doing."