A US voting rights group said it has documented hundreds of voting irregularities affecting poor and minority voters in seven southern states -- from long lines and faulty equipment to deliberate voter intimidation.
"While the United States of America is a strong democracy, it is also a flawed democracy," said Keith Jennings, director of Count Every Vote 2004, formed after the 2000 election to assure voting rights for "underrepresented and marginalized sectors of the population."
The group sent monitors on Tuesday to 700 precincts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. Their goal was to observe such issues as the timely opening of polls, the presence of correct ballots and functioning machines, and the impartiality of elections officials.
Among their preliminary findings, the group listed a shortage of early voting locations in Duval County, Florida, the largest county in Florida in area and voting-age population, the failure of electronic voting machines in three South Carolina counties, and the loss of votes at a North Carolina precinct when too much information was stored on a computer unit.
Group leaders did not know exactly how many irregularities were cited and could not say which states appeared to have the most. They said those issues will be more fully explored in their final report, to be issued in about two weeks.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, election officials said an error with an electronic voting system gave US President George W. Bush 3,893 extra votes in Columbus.
Franklin County's unofficial results had Bush receiving 4,258 votes to Democrat John Kerry's 260 votes in a precinct in Gahanna. Records show only 638 voters cast ballots in that precinct. Bush's total should have been recorded as 365.
Bush won the state by more than 136,000 votes, according to unofficial results, and Kerry conceded the election on Wed-nesday after saying that 155,000 provisional ballots yet to be counted in Ohio would not change the result.
Deducting the erroneous Bush votes from his total could not change the election's outcome, and there were no signs of other errors in Ohio's electronic machines, said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.
Sean Greene, research director with the nonpartisan Election Reform Information Project, said that while the glitch appeared minor, "that could change if more of these stories start coming out."
In one North Carolina county, 4,500 votes were lost because officials believed a computer that stored ballots electronically could hold more data than it did.