Baltimore Co. finishes counting 6,567 ballots

November 16, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Doris Suter was smiling.

Her Baltimore County election staff had finally finished counting 6,567 absentee ballots, bringing an unofficial close to Maryland's gubernatorial squeaker. It was 10:30 yesterday morning, just a half-day shy of a week since the polls had closed.

"I've been here for 33 years. I had a recount one time. That was nothing compared to this," said the calm and affable Mrs. Suter, whose staff of 15 had worked for nine straight days. "Now, I think we're going to resume normal."

"Normal" in this case means the official canvass of almost 1,000 Baltimore County voting machines, which was scheduled to begin this morning at a Woodlawn warehouse. The canvass, which involves recording the tallies on the back of each machine, is the state's official vote count.

A colleague stopped in to tell Mrs. Suter how well, and well-rested, she looked.

"TV does that," he said. "You're starting to look like Connie Chung."

That brought a laugh from Mrs. Suter, whose normally obscure office was thrust into the media limelight by the closeness of the gubernatorial race.

As the morning wore on, she asked a co-worker to bring her a sandwich and obliged all those who asked for help. She patiently gave the final Baltimore County absentee count again and again: 3,739 votes for Ellen R. Sauerbrey and 2,442 for Parris N. Glendening.

She conscientiously added that nearly one-third of those votes were being challenged and that the numbers are "unofficial," subject to the voting machine canvass today and the tally of about 150 absentee ballots from overseas, which are not due until Friday.

"I've been here for some close races," said Lorraine Wisniewski, who has worked for the elections board for 14 years and was one of two chief clerks in charge of absentees. "But I never, ever witnessed this," she said.

Because of challenges from both candidates' camps, the women had to match each application for an absentee ballot with the envelope the ballot was returned in so that the signatures could be compared.

The process was slowed further by the county's printer, who used the wrong ink on the ballots, which made it impossible to count them with a computerized scanner -- the county's first foray into electronic vote tabulation.

That mix-up cost the county days, as workers spent the weekend manually recording votes on three voting machines.

The women won high praise for their diligence and good nature under intense scrutiny from the candidates' camps and the media.

"They were too busy to complain. The office works well together," said board of elections member Marjorie Neuman. "This is a well-run office. We may be antiquated here, but we are efficient."

Ms. Neuman, who put in some long days herself since the absentee count started Thursday, had particular praise for Ms. Wisniewski and Katie Brown, who shares responsibility for the absentee ballots. "They were under tremendous pressure," she said.

Now that the pressure is off, the women can return to the routine chores of wrapping up the election, which will stretch into next week. "This isn't done," said Mrs. Suter.

When will Mrs. Suter get a day off? "I don't know," she said with resignation.

She does know that in the next election, she will once again invoke her perennial wish for all candidates:

"I always say, 'Win big.' "

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