Normally these people type into a computer the Baltimore City Jail records, water bill readings and parking fine amounts.
But last night they were counting votes.
Baltimore's Board of Election Supervisors, in an effort to avoid the problems that plagued the vote count on the night of this year's primary election, had a trial run in anticipation of next Tuesday's general election.
Everything appeared to run smoothly as more than a dozen municipal data-entry clerks from almost every city agency -- assisted by election board employees -- punched in numbers from simulated returns.
On Sept. 11, the city election board had tried to count votes on eight computer terminals in a small conference room in the Benton Building on East Fayette and Gay streets. The room was crowded with reporters, employees and candidates -- and chaos reigned as election workers struggled to add up votes.
While other jurisdictions had complete, unofficial vote counts available about two hours after the polls closed, it took the city two days to deliver final results.
"We can't stand another night like the primary," said Carl M. Adair, a member of the board. "We can't afford the same results."
So, together with John Huculak, the city's data systems chief, and Arthur W. Murphy, a data consultant who donated his services as a favor to Barbara E. Jackson, the election board administrator, a new system was designed.
Last night's test saw up to 20 computer terminals operated by the data-entry clerks in the Abel Wolman Municipal Building.
Next Tuesday night, the news media, candidates and other members of the public will be able to view results almost as soon as they are keyboarded, officials promise. Big-screen displays, hooked up by phone lines to computers in the Wolman Building, are to continuously show results as they come in. Printouts of results are to be available at 9 p.m., 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.
"I think we'll see the quickest results ever to the public from Baltimore City," said Gene M. Raynor, administrator of the State Administrative Board of Election Laws.