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Tornado, virus fears, machines disrupt voting in some states

Deadly tornadoes knocked out polling places in Tennessee, fears over the coronavirus left some precincts in California and Texas short of election workers, and overwhelmed voting systems led to long lines in Los Angeles as Super Tuesday sent voters surging to the polls in 14 states.

Scattered reports of polling places opening late, machines malfunctioning or voter rolls being down temporarily disrupted voting in some of the states voting Tuesday, but there were no widespread reports of voters being unable to cast a ballot or security breaches.

Just hours before polls were set to open in Tennessee, tornadoes tore through parts of the state, destroying at least 140 buildings and killing at least 22. With more than a dozen polling sites in Nashville's Davidson County damaged, voters were sent to other locations, where some of them encountered long lines.

The Tennessee Democratic Party and the presidential campaigns of Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren successfully sued Davidson County election officials and the secretary of state's office to extend voting for three hours beyond the scheduled 7 p.m. closing time.

In Texas, voting got off to a slow start in Travis County, home to Austin, because many election workers did not show up, with some citing fears of contracting the coronavirus, according to the county clerk's office. The election office said it began implementing emergency procedures, with elections staff and other employees filling in as poll workers.

Another county, in California, addressed concerns over the coronavirus by sending bottles of hand sanitizer to polling places and asking poll workers to post fliers from the public health department on how to avoid spreading the virus.

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.

Super Tuesday marked the first major security test since the 2018 midterm elections, with state and local election officials saying they are prepared to deal with everything from equipment problems to false information. There were bumps in a few states.

Voter file databases were down briefly in some counties in California, Texas and elsewhere. In Los Angeles County, electronic pollbooks that are connected to the state's voter database were operating slowly because of the high number of voters, County Registrar-Recorder spokesman Mike Sanchez said. The county brought in technicians and added devices in some polling places to move lines along.

Even so, delays were two hours or longer in some locations. 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.”

At a vote center in Silverlake, just north of downtown Los Angeles, a poll worker emerged in mid-afternoon to tell a line of about 80 people that half of the 10 voting machines inside were unusable because they were stuck “buffering.” Some machines had “out of order” signs taped to them.

Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, described problems with pollbooks around the country as “intermittent I.T. issues” that had since been resolved.

“All the systems are back up online," he said. "We're not aware of any persistent, long-term issues associated with the election infrastructure of the United States right now.”

In Minnesota, a poll-finding tool on the secretary of state's website was briefly inaccessible on Tuesday. Republicans cried foul when visitors to the site were redirected to a left-leaning website that also supplied polling place information. Secretary of State Steve Simon said a staff member had linked to the partisan site in what he called “a serious lapse of judgment.”

It wasn't immediately clear why the poll-finder was inaccessible. Simon said there was no evidence the state's voting systems were hacked or interfered with, but his office didn't immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press about the reason for the website outage.

U.S. intelligence chiefs have warned that foreign interference remains a threat for the 2020 election, but the national agency that oversees election security said Tuesday it had not detected any notable uptick in either misinformation by foreign nations or targeted attacks on voting equipment.

That doesn't mean Super Tuesday was free of mischief. The Texas Secretary of State’s Office had reports that voters were receiving robocalls stating — incorrectly — that Republicans would vote on Tuesday while Democrats and independents would vote on Wednesday. Spokesman Stephen Chang said the office has the number from which the calls were made and has reported them to federal authorities. He said it was unclear who was responsible for the calls, which were made across the state.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Equal Protection Under Law, said her organization filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission about the robocalls. It was not immediately clear whether they also were sent to voters in other states.

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Cassidy reported from Atlanta; Sainz reported from Memphis.

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Associated Press writers Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, Jake Bleiberg in Dallas, Kate Brumback in Atlanta, Stefanie Dazio and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles, Ben Fox and Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., Doug Glass in Minneapolis, Juan Lozano in Houston, Jonathan Mattise in Nashville and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, and contributed to this report.

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