Slower voting system chosen

High-tech reporting will cost too much, election board says

`People can wait an hour'

Supporters said method would cut overtime expenses

February 04, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Howard County election board has been offered a high-tech way to speed reporting results but has decided that faster isn't always better.

Election judges could use three strategically placed computer modem stations to electronically report their results nearly an hour sooner, instead of driving to the board's new offices off Route 100 at Executive Drive, to personally deliver the goods, a contractor proposed.

But as they contemplated the $30,000 expense of the setup for this year's two elections, the board members decided to go slow instead.

"Keep this up and it will be like Cook County [Ill.]. We'll know the results before the polls close," quipped alternate Republican board member Guy Harriman during a debate on the issue at a board meeting. He was referring to legends about rigged voting in Chicago rumored to have won John F. Kennedy a narrow presidential victory over Richard M. Nixon in 1960.

"I don't like spending that money - I really don't," said Grace Greenslit, a Republican board member. Chairman Ronald L. Howard Sr. a Democrat, agreed, saying he hasn't heard any complaints from elected officials about the speed in reporting Howard County's results on election night. James Poole, a Democrat, was the only board member at the meeting who favored the faster method proposed by Elections Systems and Software, the Chicago firm providing the county a leased voting system for this year's elections at a cost of $259,000.

He urged members to consider the "dollar cost" against the "people cost," for election board employees and precinct judges who work from 6 a.m. until late into the night on election days.

"Like it or not, we're in a day and time when you bat an eye and people want to know. Something can happen in Russia, and in 15 minutes we know all about it. That's our world," Poole said.

Board administrator Robert S. Antonetti argued for getting the option while the county waits to buy new touch-screen-style electronic voting machines as part of Maryland's statewide plan to have uniform systems in place for the 2004 elections.

Antonetti said Howard County will have up to 15 additional precincts this year due to redistricting and population growth, and the statewide ballot will be more than twice as large as the 2000 presidential ballot. Also, the cost can be paid over two budget years, while waiting the extra time for results will cost more in overtime expenses for board employees.

But the majority of board members disagreed.

"Right now our funds are running in the red," Howard said, referring to a projected $18 million shortfall in this year's county operating budget.

"The whole country was willing to wait six weeks for the last election. People can wait an hour," Greenslit said. Harriman, a nonvoting alternate, agreed.

The final vote was 2-1.

Howard's 14-year-old system was judged too old to be reliable, so the county is leasing a newer , but similar system just for the September and November elections this year.

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