Research by the Associated Press, which counts the votes on election night for the media (including NBC), indicates that voters are in for a long election night, NBC's Sheldon Gawiser advises. While it is normal for about 5% of voting equipment to be replaced each election cycle, this time the changes required by the Help America Vote Act will impact most of the voters as 60% of the voting jurisdictions will have some new equipment.
A number of the equipment suppliers are so overwhelmed by the volume of new business that they cannot support the installations. In Illinois, vote tabulation equipment problems prevented complete vote counts until six days after the state's primary. In Ohio and Maryland, voting problems resulted in voting locations staying open for an additional two hours during their primaries. It took Cuyahoga County in Ohio six days to count absentee voters, and in Florida, new equipment could not track accurately what proportion of the votes had actually been counted. In fact, Gawiser notes, things are so bad that a number of counties have reverted to counting ballots by hand.
What does this all mean? First, many voters are going to be faced with the challenge of voting on new equipment for the first time. At the same time, poll workers will have to learn how to use the equipment and support voters. Add this to additional provisional voting which is now required in all states, and voters are likely to be faced with increased difficulty in just casting their votes. Second, it is likely that the counting of votes, particularly where a number of different types of voting equipment are in use, will be significantly delayed.
So, "stay tuned" on election night may well mean "wait a couple of days" to see how close races turn out.