The three weeks from hell have ended at local election boards. Finally, the ballots have been counted and re-checked for accuracy. A final tabulation has been submitted to the state election board. Parris Glendening won the race for governor by 6,000 votes. Ellen Sauerbrey lost. That much is clear. But why did it take so long?
Especially disturbing were the various procedures at local election boards for sending out and processing absentee ballots. The weaknesses of a decentralized election system were laid bare.
What Maryland needs is a strong, centralized state election board with the power to promulgate uniform rules and regulations that all local boards must adhere to. All workers should be employees of the state board, not the local governments (there are now four holdouts). And the state, not the counties and city, should foot the bill for the presidential and gubernatorial-year elections.
This won't happen for a number of reasons. First, two well-to-do counties in the Washington suburbs -- Prince George's and Montgomery -- have inflated the salaries of election board workers so that they make more than their state counterparts (the election-board administrator in Montgomery gets $85,000 a year versus $72,000 for the state administrator). There's no way these two powerful counties will permit a state takeover if it means a cut in pay for all these workers.
Second, a state takeover of election expenses would mean millions of dollars at a time when Annapolis faces a projected deficit of $150 million next year. It would take millions more to put every jurisdiction on computerized ballots.
That's what should be done, though. In this age of high-speed communications, voters expect and have a right to know quickly who won the election. Montgomery and Harford counties, for instance, reported their computerized results soon after the polls closed. Baltimore City reported its totals from mechanical voting machines after midnight.
Marylanders deserve faster vote counts. They also deserve uniform voting and vote-counting procedures throughout the state that are strictly followed. There should be one method for handling absentee ballots; no local board should be allowed to deviate. The legislature also should give the state board the power to pay more to election judges throughout Maryland and require better training for these essential individuals.
We cannot have a repeat performance of the 1994 election-count follies. This can best be avoided by centralizing the election-day functions so one statewide panel is responsible for making sure that voting is conducted smoothly and that the count is quick and accurate.