Company to aid in tabulation of defective county ballots More than 300 votes cast on misprinted forms

November 05, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

As Baltimore County election workers prepared to count hundreds of misprinted ballots today, officials of a private company that provided the defective ballots for Tuesday's election began trying to determine how to prevent similar problems in future elections.

Representatives of Chicago-based Election Systems & Software were to arrive in Towson today to assist in counting the 339 defective ballots from 27 precincts.

Officials also will begin counting about 6,300 absentee ballots today.

Doris Suter, administrator of the county's Board of Supervisors of Elections, said election officials might refuse to pay the estimated $57,000 bill for all of this year's ballots. The printing on the bad ballots was misaligned, making it impossible for the voting machine's scanner to record results.

The county purchased the $6.5 million Op-Tech III Eagle computer system last year. It is designed to quickly read ballots and then record results on a cassette that tabulates totals within seconds. The system is used statewide except in Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

The system has experienced glitches. During the Sept. 15 primary, hundreds of Baltimore County ballots jammed, causing a lengthy delay in the tabulation. ES&S promised to provide more technicians for Tuesday's election, though technical woes did not materialize.

The problem in the general election was that ballots were misprinted. Problems were first detected 10 days before Election Day, Suter explained, during a test run of voting machines and the printed ballots.

"We already had the ballots, and we could never reorder at that point, so we were braced for something," Suter said. "We didn't think it would have that magnitude."

Voters started complaining of the problems to election officials early Tuesday. Rejected ballots were locked in a box until the polls closed at 8 p.m., as ES&S officials and administrators from Suter's office paced nervously, uncertain about how many ballots were rejected.

Linda Lamone, administrator of elections for the State Administrative Board of Election Laws, stressed yesterday that the problem affected a small number of the county's 187 precincts. "We want to make sure the printer will not do the same thing in the future," Lamone said.

One complication is that the ballots are shrink-wrapped in batches of 50 and shrink-wrapped again in bundles of 200 -- which makes checking for errors nearly impossible, Lamone said.

Mike T. Bauer, ES&S director of customer support services, pledged Tuesday night to investigate the problem.

"The worst-case scenario is that we have to hand-count all the ballots," he said.

Said a disappointed Suter, who along with her staff worked 18 hours on Tuesday: "This was the worst election night we've had. My people worked so hard and gave so much."

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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