LOS ANGELES – Long lines were still be reported at Los Angeles County voting centers at dusk on Tuesday amid reports of balloting machines breaking and other problems in the first test of a revamped election system in California's largest county.
"It's a mess," said one voter, Scott Bowles, a former USA TODAY reporter who waited for a half-hour in a line in Van Nuys, a section of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley, only to be told that the voting machines had busted.
After years of seeing more voters casting absentee ballots by mail, the county banished neighborhood polling stations in favor of the centers. The county instituted early voting, but cut the number of places to cast a ballot from about 4,500 to less than 1,000.
California, the biggest prize of the 14 states voting in the Democratic primary on Super Tuesday, was not the only state experiencing long wait times.
The campaign for Sen. Bernie Sanders confirmed it has filed an emergency injunction in California to keep Los Angeles County polls open until 1 a.m. EST following reports of massive waits and voting machine problems there. But shortly after 11 p.m. EST, the Associated Press called Sanders the winner in California.
Texas, the second-most populous state voting Tuesday, also had delays, particularly in Travis County. Fears of catching the COVID-19 coronavirus disrupted staffing at some voting locations at the beginning of the day, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said.
Eleven people, including judges who were responsible for opening some of the 175 polling locations across the county Tuesday, did not show up for work, she said.
"The election judges said the news was scaring them," DeBeauvoir said. "The media is hyping this corona thing."
Other workers also abandoned their posts Tuesday morning after realizing there was not enough staff to open for voting, she said.
Polls closed across Texas at 7 p.m. CST, but lines continued to have potential wait times of up to three hours for those who arrived in time.
Coronavirus concerns also played a role in California's delays.
Jesse Salinas, the chief elections official in Yolo County, just west of Sacramento, said about 10% of poll workers backed out at the last minute, and he pointed to concerns about getting the virus. He said that’s about double what is normal for an election, and sent his team scrambling for replacements.
"We are hoping people remain calm and still participate in the election process," Salinas said.
But Erica Bernal-Martinez, chief operational officer of NALEO Educational Fund, attributed the extraordinarily long wait times to the large turnout without enough voting machines at polling places.
"In Los Angeles County in particular, at two locations there have been reports of wait lines as high as 3 hours, primarily because of the small number of machines and the small locations," Bernal-Martinez said.
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."
Kathay Feng, executive director of Common Cause of California, said election officials were using a new system for electronically checking voter registration and for marking ballots, which created voting delays.
"At the same time that there is extremely high voter turnout, people are able to ask for same-day registration, people are able to request party registration change and to indicate that they want crossover voting," Feng said. Those requests are "causing extreme delays," she said, reported at 45 to 90 minutes.
Kristen Clarke, president of Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said there were poll closures and delayed openings in Texas counties including Dallas, Travis and Tarrant.
"These closures and delays led to extended wait times for voters," she said. "In addition, the secretary of state’s website, which is used for checking voter registration was down for a large period of the day."
In Minnesota, some voters trying to look up their polling location on the nonpartisan secretary of state’s website were briefly redirected to the website of a progressive group that has backed Sen. Elizabeth Warren for president, stoking concerns among some Republicans.
In a statement, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said his office’s website, which helps voters find their polling location, was down for a short amount of time early Tuesday.
"Our policy in the event of technical issues is that voters are redirected to find their information via the designated backup, Google’s nonpartisan Voting Information Project," he said. "In an urgent attempt to restore service, a staff person diverged from our emergency plan and, in a serious lapse of judgment, linked to a partisan website that contained polling place information."
Contributing: Austin American Statesman; Brianne Pfannenstiel, Des Moines Register; The Associated Press