Elected under 'cloud,' Snow Hill officials don't want new vote Irregularities cited, but critics agree the result won't change.

May 18, 1992|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

SNOW HILL -- Within minutes after taking the oath for the highest elected office in Snow Hill, Mayor Raymond H. Warren had to ward off unhappy voters who wanted to toss the results of the election into the trash can and hold a new vote.

It's not that voters in the town of 2,500 are necessarily unhappy with Mr. Warren and the winners of two council seats.

They just say that a few glitches of the human and mechanical variety made the May 5 election less than perfect:

* One of two voting machines in the town library apparently jammed and didn't record some of the votes.

* Contrary to town rules and practices, at least three residents voted although they had not been registered before Election Day.

* Members of the same household were told they had to vote in different council districts.

* Voters were turned away after election supervisors said their registration cards weren't on file.

* Although no other elections were held in Worcester County that day, neither of the two certified voting machine repairmen was available to repair a machine when it broke.

* Despite a provision in the town charter that requires election results to be validated within 12 hours after the polls close, the votes were not made official until two days after the election.

"I don't think anybody did anything wrong intentionally," says Cyndy Pusey, a third-generation Snow Hill resident who works in the family's country store. "There were just too many errors. You'd think we could have this election over again."

But if Ms. Pusey and other disgruntled voters want a second election, they'll have to turn to authorities outside Snow Hill.

Just before new officials formally took their oaths last Tuesday, the outgoing Town Council voted unanimously to reject a request for a new election.

Minutes later, the new council also refused.

Town officials argued that a second election was unnecessary because the outcome would not be affected.

According to the official tally, Mr. Warren got 250 votes, compared with 179 for Michael Pruitt and 133 for Patricia Cooper Compton.

The new mayor urged townspeople to put the election behind them and turn their attention to making Snow Hill, the county seat, a better place.

"To err is human," he said in an interview before his swearing-in. "But to err in an election is unacceptable. I can't change what has passed, but I can make sure these things don't happen again in the future."

Mr. Warren said he will review the town's election procedures but would not agree to a second election unless state authorities order it.

"As far as I know, the system worked," he said. "It was fallible, but the results wouldn't have changed, I'm told. Let's get on with our lives. Let's get on with the life of Snow Hill."

Mr. Warren, a World War II pilot and retired CIA officer, said he wished he could start his new term under different circumstances.

"I feel victimized just like everybody else," he said. "I don't appreciate being sworn in with this cloud."

Mayor Warren's attempt to soothe the anger apparently had the opposite effect.

"It's unreal," complains Joseph Compton, husband of one of the losing candidates, who has taken complaints to the state prosecutor's office, the Maryland attorney general, the State Administrative Board of Election Laws and the FBI.

State officials say that, ultimately, the town is responsible for its own election, and any complaints have to go first to the Worcester County state's attorney.

Mr. Compton says he took that step and explained his complaints to B. Randall Coates, the county state's attorney.

Brushing aside charges that his reaction is a case of sour grapes, Mr. Compton says he's not upset over the outcome of the election.

"It is the fact that this was flawed all along, and people's civil rights have been trampled on," he declares.

Patricia Compton says she does not plan to file formal charges. But she is not happy.

"My voting rights were not tampered with, but the whole thing was a comedy of errors," she says. "My thing with the election was that it was handled improperly."

Questions about the election arose soon after the polls closed when unofficial tallies indicated that only 379 voters cast ballots in the mayoral race.

Town officials, who called in the county election board to help go over the numbers, later explained that the discrepancy occurred when a poll worker accidentally failed to punch all the mayoral votes from a tally sheet into a calculator.

Town Manager Wayne B. Winebrenner says some of the tally discrepancies and mechanical malfunctions resulted because election officials were unfamiliar with the voting machines, recently acquired from the county.

The town had used similar machines before but had not been responsible for overseeing them.

Mr. Winebrenner says the town will train its own employees to repair the machines and will clear up problems with how residents are listed in voting districts. He says most of the non-mechanical problems were due to human error.

The delay in reporting results occurred because it took longer than expected to discover why there was such a difference between the number of votes cast and the total in the mayor's race.

Although the town is divided over the election, everything is still civil.

In fact, some election critics such as Ms. Pusey are members of a group planning a retirement dinner for former Mayor Tom Shockley, who voted against a second election.

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