ATLANTA -- Georgia leaped into the electronic voting age Tuesday - with only a few minor glitches - in an election being watched almost as closely for the way its technology worked as for the crucial races on the ballot.
Voters were choosing a governor, perhaps determining the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and selecting candidates for Congress and the Legislature.
A steady rain, which often suppresses voter turnout, fell across much of north Georgia on Tuesday and was expected to continue throughout the day. Low voter turnout traditionally helps Republican candidates.
"I really hate all the negative campaigning, but I came out and voted anyway," said Tracy Yandle of Atlanta. "I always vote. This time the election is so close, especially in the Senate, I had to come out and vote."
In every precinct of the state, touch-screen machines awaited voters who had not seen them before except, perhaps, in one of hundreds of training sessions the state conducted over the summer and fall.
Gone were punch card ballots, optical scan cards, lever-activated machines and paper ballots, which two rural counties continued to use until this year.
Early voters gave the new electronic machines high marks. Yandle called it "as easy as using an ATM," and about two dozen voters in central Georgia's Lamar County raved about the new machines.
"It's great. I've been voting for a lot more years than I care to say," said Joe Penley of Barnesville. "It's almost too simple. My 4-year-old granddaughter could do it. It's hard to make errors if you just follow instructions."
One minor technical problem affected Republican gubernatorial candidate Sonny Perdue's wife, Mary, when she voted in Houston County about 8 a.m. While she was casting a ballot, the machined locked up and crashed.
But officials rebooted the computer, and she continued with ease. Sonny Perdue had no problems voting at the same precinct.
"I think anytime you have that many new computers, you're going to have some problems, but the workers handled it well," Mary Perdue said.
Gov. Roy Barnes faced no technical difficulties when he voted, along with his wife Marie, soon after polls opened at South Cobb High School in Austell, near his hometown of Mableton.
Thousands of poll workers were trained before the election and a small army of technicians stood by in case of malfunctions. But there were only a few minor glitches reported early Tuesday:
-One race was missing from Randolph County ballots, but officials said it would be easy to fix.
-There were no voter access cards at a precinct in Union County, but they were being rushed to the precinct. The cards allow voters to access the ballot.
In the top races on the ballot, Democrats were defending the governorship and a U.S. Senate seat.
Perdue, a former lawmaker, has assailed Barnes' leadership style as dictatorial and attacked his education reform plan as a failure. Perdue also promised a public referendum on the new state flag Barnes pushed the Legislature to adopt which all but eliminates the Confederate symbol.
In the U.S. Senate race, Democrat Max Cleland faced Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss in one of a handful of elections nationwide that could tip the scales in a closely divided Senate. President Bush, pushing for a Republican majority, visited Georgia three times to rally support for Chambliss.
Cleland voted at Lithonia City Hall in metro Atlanta. Chambliss, who represents a south Georgia congressional district, cast his ballot in Moultrie.
One Atlanta voter, Dick James, said he generally supports Libertarian candidates, but voted for Chambliss on Tuesday because he wanted to oust the incumbent Cleland.
"He consistently votes for legislation that expands the role of government," James said. "He generally votes the Democratic Party line."
But Cleland has the strong support of Georgia's other Democratic senator, Zell Miller, who has the reputation of a conservative who works well with Republicans and President Bush.
"Max Cleland is my hero," Miller said Monday. "It is disgraceful and shameful for anyone to question this man's commitment."
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