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Are polls ready for big turnout?

In 2000, hanging chads marred the presidential election in Florida. Four years later, malfunctioning voting machines threw Ohio into controversy.

With a record number of voters expected today, can the country's embattled election machinery stand up to the pressure?

This year's unprecedented primary turnout has already exposed cracks in the infrastructure. In Texas, lines stretched for hours and ballots ran out. Voters in Virginia were told to submit slips of paper – which were later disqualified – when ballot deliveries didn't arrive, and overwhelmed poll workers in Washington, D.C., hid electronic machines because they were afraid of them.

Primary turnout broke records – in Delaware and the District of Columbia, the number of voters tripled from 2000; in Florida that figured doubled. The only state with less than 50 percent turnout was New Hampshire.

Though nearly all election officials have taken extra precautions for today – some have ordered a paper ballot for every registered voter as well as increasing the number of electronic machines – substantial fear remains that polling places won't be able to stand up to millions of voters who want to choose between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

“The ultimate test of democracy is full voter participation,” said NAACP president Ben Jealous. “States are not completely grasping what they're in for. In Virginia, the governor won't even agree to printing out additional paper ballots. Even though they started passing out sheets of paper during the primary because they ran out of ballots.”

Foreshadowing what could be a litigious ending to this year's election, the NAACP filed a federal lawsuit in Virginia, demanding more electronic machines in minority neighborhoods, and extra paper ballots in case those machines are tied up by record turnout. A judge denied the request Monday following a hearing.

State Republicans had contended that changing voting procedures this late in the game could disadvantage their candidates.

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