Firm mails sample ballots to dozens of wrong homes

Real ballots have been proofread, official says

March 05, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

About 25 to 50 Howard County voters received the wrong sample ballots for Tuesday's primary election, officials say, but they could not say exactly why.

Sample ballots, distributed in only a few Maryland jurisdictions, are mailed to voters before an election to help familiarize them with what they will see when they vote.

Evelyn Purcell , acting elections board administrator, said Elections Systems and Software, the Birmingham, Ala., firm that printed the real ballots and the sample ones, may have confused registered Democrats, designated by a "D," with voters who registered under "O," for "Other" -- the category for people whose parties are not recognized in Maryland. The county has 68,000 Democrats and 21,000 "others" out of a total registration of 131,000.

"I'm trying to determine what happened," Purcell said.

But Michael Allred, the Alabama firm's production manager, said it is still unclear to him what went wrong, although he's trying to find out.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to straighten this out, to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.

Purcell said the real ballots have been proofread and are correct.

Donald Dunn, a candidate in the nonpartisan school board election in Howard County, said the error shouldn't make much difference, since school board candidates appear on all the ballots.

Dunn, a Democrat, said he got a ballot meant for a Republican. "It doesn't make any difference to me, it's just a sample ballot," he said.

But he was worried that maybe he was registered incorrectly in the board's files. He was reassured he isn't, he said.

The Alabama firm was the middle of three bidders for the $14,000 printing job on the sample and regular ballots, Purcell said. The top bid, from a Maryland firm, was $10,000 higher, and the lowest bid came from a firm with no experience in printing ballots.

"We were afraid to give it to them," she said of the low bidder.

The county spent another $19,000 on postage to send the samples to every registered voter.

The Alabama firm has plenty of experience and a good reputation, she said. "We're sorry that people got the wrong ballots," she said, but it's now too late to do anything to correct things.

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