Howard reports 3 votes wrong Charter items thought to have been rejected actually won big

November 08, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

Oops.

Howard County election officials discovered yesterday that for two days they had been giving out the wrong vote totals for three proposed changes to the county constitution.

How wrong?

The officials had said the proposals failed by a landside. The proposals actually won by a landslide.

"Naturally, we are disappointed that this happened the way it did," said a sheepish president of the Howard County Association of Election Officials, Frank Lupashunski.

Like other Howard election officials yesterday, he chalked this one up to an honest error.

"These things happen, especially in the crush of all the pressure that goes on," said Barbara Feaga, the county's director of elections.

She discovered the mistake at 3 p.m. yesterday after the mystery of why voters had supposedly rejected a minor semantic change involving the county's appeals board was raised.

Her explanation: Before the election, an Elections Board staffer updated a computer program to tally the votes, mistakenly typing "Against" instead of "For" and "For" instead of "Against."

The staffer did this three times, Feaga said. So Tuesday night, vote totals for three charter questions on the Howard ballot essentially flowed into the wrong category, Feaga said.

Thirteen changes were proposed to the Howard charter. Ten of the vote totals were reported correctly.

Feaga stressed yesterday that the mistakes were caught well before next Friday, when results will be marked as official.

And other officials pointed out that if a mistake was going to be made, at least it was made on one of the charter proposals. After all, they noted, it's as not as though they got the presidential totals wrong -- or the county's heated and very close judges race.

Still, the errors had their impact.

Raymond Wacks, the county budget director, spent Wednesday worried about the erroneously reported rejection of two complicated budget measures. He fretted -- needlessly as it turned out -- over whether the county still would be able to borrow money for short-term capital projects.

The errant vote totals also had created something of a mystery in Howard County: Why would voters have so overwhelmingly rejected perhaps the most innocuous question in election history?

Under that charter amendment, officials wanted to change the term "Appeal Boards" to "Board of Appeals" in the charter.

The Sun explored that question in a story printed in yesterday's editions. County officials explained that it was unexplainable.

Told yesterday that the vote on that change was reported wrong by officials, some were relieved.

"That makes life seem a little more rational," said Vince Marando, a Columbia resident and political science professor at the University of Maryland.

His new concern: How did the elections board mistake happen? "You just really wouldn't expect it in this day and age," he said.

George Layman, chairman of the county appeals board, said the supposed rejection of the name change by voters had caused him to all but cancel the idea of running for office in the future -- because, he joked, Howard voters were not smart enough to elect him.

Yesterday, he was back to calculating his political future -- once he heard that voters had really opted for the name change. "This really puts my faith back in the voters," he said.

According to yesterday's revised tallies, of the 13 proposed changes to the Howard charter all but one passed.

The lone failed measure would have allowed the Howard County Council to cancel one of its December sessions. Council members said they often are accused of trying to slip through important legislation under the quiet of the holiday season.

But the majority of voters apparently viewed the proposal as a chance to take a holiday break, according to voters and officials interviewed this week.

Pub Date: 11/08/96

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