Rita A. Dather, the Harford County election administrator, says she was angered by the contentious atmosphere at election board headquarters in Bel Air Thursday night as 2,095 absentee ballots were counted.
"The democratic process was abused," Ms. Dather said Friday, referring to supporters of Parris N. Glendening, the Democratic candidate for governor.
The Glendening camp contested an estimated 150 to 200 ballots cast by absentee Harford voters. Republicans representing Ellen Sauerbrey challenged few.
At one point, after comments from partisan onlookers appeared to question the integrity of her staff, Ms. Dather appeared to have tears in her eyes.
"I wasn't crying, I was mad," she said later. ". . . I'm proud of my staff and what we accomplished without a day off since July."
The board's philosophy became evident as it accepted ballots -- challenged by the Democrats -- that were slightly torn, or contained erasures, or had been marked with lines that exceeded the boundaries of the arrows that pointed to $l candidates' names.
The board accepted most of the absentee ballots, unless voters had blatantly failed to follow elections laws. The board rejected only three absentee ballots, for which the voters' oaths on the envelopes were unsigned.
"It's the same at boards all over the state," Ms. Dather said. "If there is an error, but the voters' intent is clear, election boards will always rule on the side of the voter.
"That's the way it should be."
Russell D. Stansbury, president of the Harford election board, was obviously pleased with the work of Ms. Dather and her staff. He told them to take Friday off after the absentee ballot count was completed about 10:30 p.m. Thursday.