Gene Raynor: the man in charge of today's elections

Q&A

September 13, 1994|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Sun Staff Writer

Forty years ago, when he was 18 and fresh from Patterson High School, Gene M. Raynor began his first full-time job -- as a clerk in the offices of the Baltimore Board of Supervisors of Elections. He already was a political veteran, having begun as a campaign volunteer at 15.

Mr. Raynor held a variety of election board jobs, and in 1979 was named head of the city operation. There, he tended to all the fine points of the vote: the registration of voters, the storing of machines, the processing of candidates' financial reports, the monitoring of election-day complaints.

In 1987, Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed Mr. Raynor state administrator of election laws, putting him in charge of elections across Maryland. Mr. Raynor's second six-year term expires in 1999. Until then, while candidates kiss babies, attend bull roasts and smile for television ads, Mr. Raynor will be overseeing the housekeeping behind the voting. Everything's got to run perfectly. "We're going to have an election Tuesday Sept. 13 and there's no rain date."

Q: How did you get your job?

A: My grandparents lived around the corner from a fellow named D'Alesandro [Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., Baltimore's longtime mayor]. And I worked for [former Southeast Baltimore state Sen.] Joe Bertorelli. They said, "We'll get you a job." From the time I was 15 I was doing political work, going door to door. My first job at the Board of Elections, I think it paid $1 an hour. I found it very interesting.

Political patronage. I'm a product of precinct politics. Pure patronage.

Q: How would you describe your job on Election Day?

A: What do I do Tuesday morning? I talk to the news media. I tell them everything's in great shape. And if it isn't, it should be.

I set up my headquarters in Baltimore City, at the city elections board in the Benton Building [in City Hall Plaza]. And I will take care of problems in all of this section of Maryland. If there are any problems, I will solve them. I will go to the problem itself. A machine breaks down. A lever breaks. Actually, I've only seen that once in 40 years, only one lever broken.

Q: What kinds of things commonly go wrong?

A: Strange things have happened: An election judge shows up drunk. You fire him. That happened once. I fired him right on the spot. I called the police in to remove him.

We get calls about jammed machines. Let me tell you what's happening there.

On the side of the voting machine is a lever that points to Democrats or Republicans. When you come in to vote, the voting judge pulls the lever that sets it to one party or another, so you can only vote in the primary for one party. Once they set that, they can't change it.

What happens is a voter comes in, she wants to vote Democratic, then she sees the name of guy she likes and she tries to vote and the lever won't go down. And you know why the lever won't go down? Because she's in the wrong party. She's a Democrat trying to vote for a Republican. Or she's a Republican voting for a Democrat. She's complaining the machine's jammed. And it's not.

We run into wacko situations. One time the LaRouche people [followers of national candidate Lyndon LaRouche] sued me. They said Henry Kissinger, Henry Kissinger no less, gave me $30,000 -- Henry and I had lunch -- in an envelope for me to fix the voting machines so that each time the lever was pulled it would only register one time [for the LaRouche candidate] for every five votes for other candidates. We showed them it couldn't happen.

Q: It's no secret that you like politicians, that you socialize with some of them. How do you avoid accusations of favoritism?

A: There's no way I can help a candidate. They have a counter on every voting machine that says exactly how many people have voted on the machines since they were built. It's locked in. It's sealed in. It can never be changed. There's another counter number. It's at zero. That's the number of people who voted that day. Anyone can come and compare those numbers with the numbers of people who signed in to vote. The numbers always add up.

I have done 20 recounts in my life. You go from machine to machine, and you find no errors at all. I've had recounts and I've had both sides say thank you very much to me.

And that's how I avoid being criticized for being friends with politicians.

Q: You've seen some close races?

A: Closest election I've ever seen: Mr. Mfume. 1979. [Kweisi Mfume, now a congressman and head of the congressional black caucus, was first elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1979.] Mr. Mfume ran against a lady named Mary Adams. Mary Adams had everyone in the world behind her. And Mr. Mfume ran his own campaign. And Mr. Mfume won by three votes. I got 300 phone calls from people around the state telling me what a lovely lady Mary Adams was. And she was. And I did a recount. And guess what happened. Mr. Mfume won by three votes.

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