PROVIDENCE — Rhode Islanders were facing long lines and, in at least two polling places, the wrong ballots as they began voting Tuesday in a hotly contested congressional race and on whether to allow the state's two slots parlors to turn into full-fledged casinos.
Officials said the incorrect ballots were delivered by the state Board of Elections for two polling places, West Kingston Elementary School in South Kingstown and Elks Lodge in West Warwick. Voting was delayed in each location, and some voters left without casting a ballot, according to town officials.
The correct ballots were later delivered.
"It was a very unfortunate mix-up with the Board of Elections," Dawn Piers of the South Kingstown Board of Canvassers told The Associated Press. She said voters were asked to return later or told they could cast a provisional ballot at two other locations.
South Kingstown got ballots meant for a precinct in North Kingstown, while West Warwick got some meant for Woonsocket, officials said. North Kingstown deputy clerk Sue Murray said voting was not affected and the town had all the right ballots. Woonsocket election officials could not immediately be reached.
A message left for Robert Kando, executive director of the state Board of Elections, was not immediately returned. Chris Barnett, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, said he did not know of other ballot problems.
Tuesday's election is the first big test of a new state law that requires voters to show identification, such as a driver's license or passport. This year, they also will be allowed to present non-photo ID, such as a utility bill. Polls will close at 8 p.m., one hour earlier than in 2010.
In the 1st Congressional District, which runs along most of the north and eastern parts of the state, freshman Democratic Rep. David Cicilline faces a stiff challenge from first-time Republican candidate Brendan Doherty, former head of the state police. The last time a Republican was elected to the House from Rhode Island was in 1992, when Rep. Ron Machtley was elected to a third term. Republicans believe they have their best shot in years in winning a U.S. House seat.
Cicilline, who was mayor of Providence for eight years before being elected to Congress two years ago, has been harshly criticized for saying during his 2010 campaign that the city's finances were in excellent condition. That turned out not to be the case.
He survived a bruising Democratic primary with businessman Anthony Gemma in September and entered the general election with less money than Doherty to wage the general election campaign. Doherty has run on the motto of "uncommon integrity" and painted Cicilline as a liar who can't be trusted.
Cicilline has argued to voters that casting a ballot for Doherty would advance the Republican agenda in Congress, a powerful argument in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than three to one. He has tried to link Doherty to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan and other national Republican figures.
During the final days of the campaign, national Republicans and Democrats have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into TV attack ads, including one that goes after Cicilline for his past as a criminal defense attorney and ties him to a child molester and murderer he defended two decades ago.
"It has been a really busy campaign, and I'm really proud of what we've done," Cicilline said as he cast his ballot Tuesday morning in Providence. "I don't have any regrets. Now it's up to the voters."
Statewide, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse is running for a second term in the U.S. Senate against Republican Barry Hinckley.
The year's most closely watched legislative race comes courtesy of Providence independent candidate Mark Binder, who's challenging House Speaker Gordon Fox over his role in the $75 million state loan guarantee to former Red Sox pitcher Schilling's failed video game company, 38 Studios. The last time a sitting House speaker was defeated in a re-election bid was in 1906.
The state's two slot parlors are pushing ballot measures that would authorize them to offer table games such as poker and blackjack. Voters as recently as 2006 defeated a plan to expand gambling in the state, but since then, Massachusetts has approved building casinos.
Twin River and Newport Grand contribute about $300 million a year to the state, and their owners say the Massachusetts casinos will threaten that unless they are allowed to expand.
Other ballot initiatives would issue bonds for several building projects, including a $94 million veterans home, a $50 million plan to renovate campus buildings at Rhode Island College, a $25 million affordable housing initiative, $20 million for open space and recreational facilities and a $20 million wastewater and drinking water construction project.
Long lines were reported Tuesday at some polling locations. Barnett, Mollis' spokesman, said that is typical in a presidential election year.