City Election Snafu

September 25, 1990

If city election officials cannot get their act together in November's general election, heads should roll. After the election board's disgraceful performance in the Sept. 13 primary, there had better be plenty of changes -- fast.

What happened on the night of Sept 13, and the following two days, cannot be tolerated. It was a case of horrendous planning, inadequate training and poor execution. There was no valid excuse for shutting down vote-counting operations at 2 a.m., with a number of races hanging in the balance. Nor was there a decent reason for delays that stretched on and on in the following days as more snafus stalled the unofficial count.

Barbara E. Jackson, who runs the election board, says she didn't have enough staff, election judges were poorly trained and there were problems adjusting to a new computer system. Yet Ms. Jackson could have -- and should have -- anticipated all these difficulties.

Returning to the old system of handing over the unofficial vote-counting job to the Police Department is not the answer. The department understandably doesn't want the task. A competent elections board operation should be able to handle this assignment quite adequately.

Gene M. Raynor, the state elections administrator who previously ran the city's operation, has been working with city officials to come up with a better way to count votes quickly. Come November, staffers will work in shifts, there will be more computer terminals and data-entry clerks, revised computer software will be used to catch suspicious vote totals and election judges will receive more training.

Candidates and voters deserve complete election information that very night. No delay is acceptable. Other subdivisions of comparable size give citizens rapid election-night results. Baltimore City should, too.

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