The Sauerbrey Aftermath

January 17, 1995

Having been blown away in court trying to get the election for governor overturned, Republican Ellen Sauerbrey says she still wants to see this state's election procedures given a thorough overhaul. On this we are in complete agreement.

City election officials badly bungled a number of technical aspects of their job. They failed to purge the rolls of people who hadn't voted in five years. They failed to ensure the post-election security of voting machines. They didn't follow state guidelines on absentee balloting.

No wonder Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Raymond Thieme, in rejecting Mrs. Sauerbrey's request, said the situation in the city "must be immediately addressed if the citizens of this state are to have confidence in the electoral process."

The State Administrative Board of Election Laws feels the same way. But it goes a step further. It wants an independent study of election procedures statewide -- starting in the city so changes can be made for September's city primary.

Every jurisdiction had its share of glitches and procedural flaws. Many counties mishandled absentee ballots despite an explicit directive from the state board's legal adviser. Few polling place judges insisted on verifying the identification of voters. No jurisdiction does an adequate job of keeping track of voter changes of address.

The situation is, indeed, most troubling in the city. Baltimore contains roughly one-quarter of all polling places in Maryland. It has the largest number of old-fashioned voting machines. It also has a real problem finding enough Republican voters to serve as election-day judges -- despite the best efforts of the local Republican Party.

What is needed is a thorough evaluation of election practices and a commitment from the governor and the legislature to make changes. A stronger, more centralized election system is essential. The state board should have far greater powers to require uniform training of election judges and uniform procedures. It also might be necessary to computerize the state voting process as much as possible, a step that could cost millions.

Maryland's balloting worked fairly well last November. The number of contested votes was microscopic given the 1.4 million ballots cast. Yes, there were technical foul-ups but nothing that would remotely have affected the outcome. Still, now is the time to shore up the weak spots exposed last November so the fairness and accuracy of future elections will not be called into question.


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