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Tornadoes, virus fears, machines disrupt some voting

Deadly tornadoes knocked out polling places in Tennessee, fears over the coronavirus left some precincts short of election workers and long lines frustrated voters in California and Texas 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, killing at least 24. 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.

Aside from the tornado-ravaged counties in the South, the two biggest Super Tuesday prizes of California and Texas appeared to have most of the voting-related problems.

Voter file databases were down or excruciatingly slow in some counties in California and Texas. 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 Silver Lake, near downtown Los Angeles, poll workers said computer network issues slowed the voter check-in process and made some machines unusable. About one-third of the approximately 40 machines were being used, and some had “out of order” signs taped to them. The resulting line meant it took about an hour for voters to cast their ballot.

In Texas, elections officials in the Houston area were sending additional voting machines to polling places after people reported hourslong wait times. A voting-rights group said the problem seemed most acute in heavily black and Latino neighborhoods.

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.

"We're not aware of any persistent, long-term issues associated with the election infrastructure of the United States right now,” he said.

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.”

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. An official with the federal cybersecurity agency said they were aware of the Texas robocalls and were investigating.

Fears of the coronavirus temporarily disrupted voting as the day began. In Travis County, Texas, home to Austin, many election workers did not show up, with some citing fears of contracting the virus, according to the county clerk's office. The election office said it implemented 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.

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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.