Election HQ returns to old site

September 27, 1990|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

The War Memorial Building, the scene of many an election-night drama, will return as the site where the public can get the latest results.

The city Board of Supervisors of Elections decided yesterday to use the War Memorial as headquarters for next year's municipal elections after the board's cramped new quarters were the scene of confusion and chaos on this year's primary election night.

The decision came during a meeting called by Gene M. Raynor, state administrator of elections, to review problems with the city vote count on Sept. 11.

For at least 25 years, until this year, precinct election judges dropped off their tally sheets at the War Memorial. Training cadets from the Police Department tabulated the unofficial results by hand in a second-floor room.

In a ground-floor hall, updated results were projected on a huge screen for waiting news reporters, candidates and other interested parties.

For this year's elections, the election board decided to do the unofficial count by computer at its new offices in the Charles L. Benton Jr. Municipal Building.

But understaffing, poor planning and some inadequately training election judges caused Barbara E. Jackson, city election chief, to stop the counting with only 88 percent of the vote recorded.

With reporters, candidates and election personnel crowded into the election board's cramped offices, Marvin Cheatham, board chairman, said "the situation simply overwhelmed us."

Raynor "strongly urged" that the board use the War Memorial again for next year and all elections after that. City computer experts said the building would have to be re-wired to handle data processing equipment.

Since there are not expected to be any closely contested general election races in the city except for the contest for Circuit Court judgeship race, the election board decided to use a large third floor conference room to post results and accommodate the news media and the public.

Raynor, a former executive secretary to the city election board, praised Jackson for "having the guts to take over the responsibility for doing the unofficial count on election night", but said the end result was not good and the pre-election planning was poor.

The board decided to make some other changes for the November general election including:

* Have more computer terminals and more data-entry clerks to put the precinct results into the computer.

* Order election judges who can't read the printouts from voting machines on election night to call the board so technicians can be dispatched to open the machines and read the numbers mechanically.

"We're going to get a 100 percent count on general election night," Cheatham promised Raynor.

Cheatham said there are no plans to have Police Department personnel do a back-up count for the general election.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke introduced a resolution Monday night calling for a back-up count by police personnel.

Meanwhile, the city Board of Elections, yesterday canceled the contract with a Pennsylvania company that provided the printed material used in voting machines on primary election day.

The board awarded the remainder of the contract, worth nearly $26,000 and covering the November general election, to the second lowest bidder, the Paul Co. of Baltimore.

The board last July awarded a $57,456 contract to United States Election Corp. of West Chester, Pa. The contract covered both the primary and general elections.

Under its contract, United States Election was to print the large sheet packs that go in the back of each voting machine and record each vote. The firm also would print the ballot and the tally sheets on which election judges write the results from each precinct.

The request to cancel the contract, submitted by the election board and the Bureau of Purchases, cites the firm's "poor quality of work, late deliveries and generally poor work performance in its handling of the first part of the contract," the primary election.

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