Glitches marred tabulation of votes Lack of technicians blamed for delays

Primary 1998

September 17, 1998|By Gerard Shields and Melody Simmons | Gerard Shields and Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Dennis O'Brien contributed to this article.

Elections officials in Baltimore and Baltimore County spent yesterday trying to determine what went wrong in tabulating primary election returns, despite the use of multimillion dollar, state-of-the art computerized voting systems.

Lack of enough technicians was blamed for a delay in tallying primary votes Tuesday night in Baltimore County as elections judges in some precincts struggled with jammed voting machines.

In Baltimore, returns arrived 2 1/2 hours later than expected, despite the purchase of a new $6.5 million system. Although city voters embraced the new voting machines and a counting mechanism that worked flawlessly, confusion reigned as computer cartridges with vote tallies were taken from precincts to the elections headquarters downtown.

In the past, Baltimore relied on election judges in its 325 precincts to deliver ballots to the election headquarters. But on Tuesday, the city spent $7,708 to hire Crown Security System Inc. of Baltimore to pick up computer cartridges and ensure delivery downtown.

The city predicted that all votes would be counted by 10 p.m. But the two final cartridges from a Northeast Baltimore school did not make it to the elections office until 12: 30 a.m.

Baltimore Elections Director Barbara E. Jackson blamed the delays on precinct election judges having difficulty closing down their machines and retrieving the computer cartridges from the voting machines after the city polls closed at 8 p.m.

Many of the 32 security officers -- each of whom on average was required to pick up cartridges from 10 precincts -- were %o backlogged at the beginning of their routes waiting for judges to finish, one guard said Tuesday. Some election judges tired of waiting for Crown employees and delivered some of the cartridges on their own. At least one security officer was still searching for a precinct at 11: 30 p.m.

"We were just so anxious to get those results in early," a disappointed Jackson said yesterday. "We do have to clean some things up."

Baltimore County elections supervisor Doris J. Suter yesterday demanded more computer technicians to assist election judges in the Nov. 3 general election. The technicians would come from the private Chicago-based company that operates the county's voting machines.

With technicians dispatched to repair the machines Tuesday, results sat idle at the Towson Board of Supervisors of Elections headquarters because board employees didn't know how to operate the main computer which tallies votes from cartridges ,, brought from voting machines in the district.

Company administrators of Elections Systems and Software called Suter yesterday -- only to learn of the woes that snagged posting at headquarters for one hour as a group of 25 Republican and Democratic supporters patiently waited.

"They realized that we did need more technicians, and we're demanding that they send us more," Suter said.

Many voting machines -- the county uses the Op-Tech III Eagle computer voting system -- jammed after ballots were inserted containing a perforated "receipt" that is supposed to be torn off and handed to the voter by the election judge.

Baltimore's Jackson was pleased at how voters embraced the city's new voting machines. In the 1994 governor's race, Baltimore was criticized for late returns that resulted in a probe of the count and allegations of fraud. State prosecutors, however, found no evidence of wrongdoing.

As a result of the delays, the city replaced the old lever-and-crank machines that city voters have used for close to a half-century with the new computers. Voters and election administrators worried that the change would cause confusion, but found the new machines easy to use.

"They are much simpler," said Debbie Gayles, an election judge at Calvin Rodwell Elementary School on Hillsdale Avenue in West Baltimore. "Once you show people what to do, it's much easier."

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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